London Ramblings

Musings of a London Migrant


Zeppelins and Jetpacks...
hotfoot_jackson
Found a copy of the Crimson Skies boxed rules on the Oxfam site (another useful little backwater away from the big boys like ebay and Amazon). For a week or so we stared at each other, but I blinked first. Got it now. For a while I was wondering if it was going to be my old set coming back, but the box is a bit more battered than mine was. All the contents in mint condition though, aircraft counters unpunched, three rulebooks, maps, dice, even the FASA product list and authentic aviation clothing catalogue were present. Enjoying reading through it all once more.

The copy of "Behind the Crimson Veil" was in reasonable nick after all, so I'm happy there, and the others I found are essentially new. Got them from the Ral Partha Europe site. Yes, the old Ral Partha metal figures company is still going, having got the moulds for a lot or old game figures they're churning them out in their Liverpool branch and also scooping up any old stock of rulebooks while they're over in the states. So I've got it all back more or less. I might even get the Crimson Skies PC game and see what that's like (there was a later Xbox release, but I don't have an Xbox and, frankly, I like the look of the earlier game more).

At the back of "Veil", this being the sky pirate sourcebook, are rules for Zeppelin boarding. With no helicopters as such and parachutes being too slow and open to wearers being shot out of the sky, the basic technique is to have a cargo plane fly low and slow over the top of the Zep, with other planes running interference, while the boarding party jump out and try to grapple on to the upper structure. A tricky manoeuvre. Been thinking though, what would make this easier? Jetpacks!

Well, rocket packs actually. And "Jump Packs" would be a better term for them. The first rocket pack design was Russian and actually dates back to 1919, there was a patent issued, but no examples were ever made as far as is known. This used an oxygen-methane mix so pretty explosive and potentially moreso if your Zep is full of hydrogen. The later late 50's Bell "Rocket Belt" used a monopropellant, hydrogen peroxide forced by nitrogen through a catalyst filter which produced an exhaust of steam and oxygen. Still very hot, but no actual flames and much less risk of an explosion. Only had a duration of 20 to 30 seconds though, so you wouldn't exactly be hurtling through the sky like in the "Rocketeer" film, but for a quick hop over to the top of a Zeppelin...

Coincidentally the current process for producing the sort of high grade H2O2 you need was invented in Germany in 1936, just in time for the Crimson Skies world of 1937. You'd still need to invoke "rule of cool" for any Crimson Skies RPG to employ these, but it's not stretching believability too far to have a particular pirate group to have stolen or otherwise obtained a batch of prototype "jump packs" and put them to good use in Zeppelin raids, and it certainly fits the whole pulp era ethos.

Still considering using the Airship Daedalus XPG rulset for this, but another option is the Savage Worlds multi-genre RPG, who's default setting is pulp. One early supplement was a pulp toolkit, but Adamant Entertainment have got a whole series of 30's pulp supplements for the system, their "Thrilling Tales" range, which certainly seems worth a look. Zeppelins and jetpacks certainly feature heavily. I gather that someone once even wrote a Savage Worlds/Crimson Skies Conversion called "Aces High" that was available on the "Savage Heroes" website, but this seems now defunct and I can't find it anywhere now, alas (although Utherwald Press' "Frozen Skies" setting for Savage Worlds does look as if it would be extremely useful...).

Wonder what else just the other side of plausible you could fit into a Crimson Skies game? Most weird science and supernatural elements would have to be toned considerably down or removed completely. I was thinking of working on one concept called "The Phantom Fighter", a strange plane seen in the skies, piloted with extreme skill. But the few surviving pilots who get close enough before being shot down report that the plane's cockpit is empty!

The plane is in fact an experimental fully automated fighter that uses radio triangulation and photo-receptor "eyes" to navigate and see. Its base is also completely automated and well stocked with fuel and ammo, the scientist who created it having lost control and been locked out, watching helplessly as the machine he built to prevent needless human deaths keeps taking to the skies and racking up kills.

Did you know that one of the first companies to produce radio controlled aircraft was started in the USA by an English ex-Royal Flying Corps pilot called Reginald Denny, who tried and failed to become a Hollywood actor. Between 1936 and 1940 they gradually produced a workable craft, called a "Radioplane" for use by the US Army as gunnery targets. They were quite successful, with newer and better models being produced over the following few years. However, radio controlled aircraft are not the most memorable things to come out of their factories. On a visit to one in 1945 an Army photographer saw a young girl on the production line who he thought had the potential to become a model. He took a few pictures of her and these eventually led to a screen test and the start of a successful film career.

Her name was Norma Jeane Dougherty, later Marilyn Monroe.

Odd things you find when you're doing research for an RPG idea.

Crimson Skies Redux
hotfoot_jackson
I have been doing a bit of Crimson Sky book recovery after all. Two of the supplements I needed were so cheap it was worth getting them just for background info. The lack of a copy of Behind the Crimson Veil was annoying though. Undertook a huge trawl of the internet and thought I found it, for a tenner even, on an online sales site in France. My boss is a lot more fluent in French than me so he took a look at it and reckoned he could easily pick it up and would do it that evening, postage would only be £7-£8. Huzzah! This was possibly the only copy of this for sale in the entire bloody world.

The day after he texted to say it was apparently unavailable now. Bummer. In desparation I actually contacted some of the authors, one had no copies and wished me luck but the other reckoned he had a few spares knocking around and would go and see if he could find them.

As it happens my boss's earlier log in to the French site had put the book in the basket tagged to the computer at work, thus making it unavailable to any other buyer. He thought this might be the case, looked it up again today and yes, it was there, so he got it and it should be on it's way shortly. Hope it arrives ok and is in decent nick now.

In the meantime the author had found his spares and offered one to me at a very reasonable price (plus postage from the States). I might actually take him up on that, firstly for taking the trouble to find it for me in the first place and secondly because this thing is so rare it's worth having a spare copy in case (or I find another poor soul trying to get hold of one).

The main rules now, that's a different kettle of fish. Have to keep looking.

Incidentally, the first author happened to have her contribution to "Tinseltown Expose", the never released Hollywood sourcebook on her blog, so I grabbed that. I'm wondering now who the other contributors were and if they too still have their chapters on file somewhere. "Zeppelins and Bombers" was finally made available, perhaps "Tinseltown Expose" could be too.

Pointy Rockets and Crimson Skies...
hotfoot_jackson
A little while back I ruminated on how it might be fun to adapt the Savage Worlds Pulp "Slipstream" setting to Deep7's Red Dwarf RPG, as a "holodeck adventure" or alternate universe (or any one of a number of ways you could drop the boys from the Dwarf into it).

Well, that's just got a whole lot easier with the latest in Deep7's Airship Daedalus RPG supplement, the "AEGIS Interplanetary Guidebook". This takes the basic 1930's setting with its occasional wierd science and demonic magic and turns the dial up to 11 by placing the H. G. Wells "War of the Worlds" into the timeline and the subsequent reverse engineering of abandoned martian technology leading to a thriving space race with bubble helmeted space suits, pointy finned rockets and more rayguns that you can wave a proton disintegrator at. It's a nice addition to the series, but... I have some issues with it, mainly with the art.

Deep7 have a habit of using "photo realistic" computer graphics in their books nowadays. Now this is fine for technology; spaceships, vehicles, technology, robots, even the occasional alien, but try to depict a human (or human-like alien) with it and it just dives straight into uncanny valley. It looks both wrong and ugly. I like it not. I didn't like it in the main Airship Daedalus rulebook and I don't like it here either. The other thing is some of the spaceship designs. OK, every pulp era source like Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers (the old Larry "Buster" Crabbe ones) has been raided, fair enough, but there are a few there that raised an eyebrow. Like at least three Gerry Anderson craft. Seriously? You didn't think anyone would notice? I certainly did, putting a few bubble canopies on Thunderbird 3 does not disguise the fact that it is still Thunderbird 3. A few others I noticed as well, like a Mysterion "vertical rocket cycle" being suspiciously close to a Trade Federation Single Trooper Aerial Platform from "The Phantom Menace" or a Nazi "TX-25 Teufelbach fighter-bomber" being a dead ringer for the Alliance Fast Attack Ship from the "Keep Flying" Firefly Online website. It just smacks of laziness, surely a halfway decent graphic designer could have knocked something original together with little effort. Let's just hope the copyright lawyers don't catch wind of it.

So issues with the rulebook, but aside from that it does make a very useful toolkit for a Red Dwarf/Slipstream conversion, same XPG mechanics and and the same sort of pulp era science fiction setting. All you really need for bringing a bit of Raygun Gothic to complicate your Dwarfer's lives.

And of course Ace Rimmer would fit into this genre so so perfectly. "Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast". What a guy!

So that's one thing taken care of, however...

While looking through the Airship Daedalus material again I was also struck by what an ideal system it would be for roleplaying another 1930s setting, that of Crimson Skies.

Crimson Skies was a boardgame created by Jordan Weisman and Dave McCoy for the FASA game company, released in 1998 and set in an alternate 1930s where simmering resentments from the Civil War, influenza epidemics, prohibition and finally the Wall Street Crash have fractured the USA into several competing nation-states and the whole economic, technological and political shape of the world has been altered. The trans-continental railroads have been torn up, the nascent highway network never materialised and if you want to move anything anywhere you take to the skies. Cue the honking big airships!

It's an alternate universe Earth, of course there's going to be airships. Duh!

And where you have airships plying trade, what are you going to get? Sky pirates! Yes indeedy. The game is basically a minatures wargame pitting various milita, mercenary and pirate factions against each other in ever more improbable but utterly cool fighter aircraft. Basically what the authors thought was "what would it take to generate airborne pirates" and this balkanised America is what they came up with. It's a glorious setting, beautifully realised and filled with larger than life characters who are the superstars of this era. A lot of the aircraft are based on experimental (but generally hugely unsuccessful) aircraft designs of the time. But this world runs on rule of cool, so bolt on a few more fins and off we go into the pale blue yonder. It's pulp hero, but it's also deiselpunk, years before the term was even invented, "dieselpulp" if you will. Hardly surprising it won the Origins Award for "Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game" and "Best Graphic Presentation of a Board Game" of 1998. It went on to spawn a couple of videogames that stil have legions of fans, as does the original game.

 (Dieselpulp? Good word, must remember that).

I had it. And I got rid of it in the downsize. And I regret it.

Fortunately I still had a few books on the shelves,so I rescued those. Even more fortunately someone of teh interwebz had put up pdf scans of a load of it on Mediafire, bless em. So I have these and luckily the pdfs I don't have and the books I do match up perfectly.

I could get them back, found a site that sells most for not much more than I sold them for, but the main rules boxed set goes for silly money and the "Behind the Crimson Veil" pirate sourcebook is nowhere to be found. I've looked. Still, I have all the info I need for the setting, a little work and I can be hurling my little Bell Valiant towards the pirate fighter group threatening that airship with it's vital cargo of vaccine.

Not on my watch, you sons of bitches!

*dakka dakka dakka dakka dakka*


Additional- While browsing the net for Crimson Skies stuff I did find out some interesting facts, such as there was going to be a Hollywood Sourcebook, but it was never released. There was also mention of the Holy Grail of the Crimson Skies gamer community, the fabled Zeppelins and Bombers Sourcebook. Always conflicting rumours of this, there was a limited release, or there wasn't anything, or it was only ever produced in Germany (the Germans were HUGE fans of Crimson Skies). Turns out the guy who wrote it, Patrick Koepke (also did the Texas Republic Sourcebook), had indeed submitted a first draft to FASA just before the company shut down and eventually, hearing of all the fans who were desparately trying to find it, found all his notes, polished it all up and finally released it as a pdf.

If you're still looking, it can be found here- http://www.montanaraiders.com/zeppelinsandbombers.html

Very nice it is too. Interesting to see that in the CS world airships the size of the Hindenburg are considered among the smaller sizes available. Honking big airships, like I said.

Now All Roads Lead To France...
hotfoot_jackson
I just watched a rather extraordinary TV programme, "Britain's Ancient Tracks" hosted by Tony "Baldrick" Robinson. Firstly it was an excellent introduction to one of the ancient trackways of this realm, the Icknield Way (they still don't know what the name actually means) and not only did it feature Phil "Oo-arr!" Harding, archaeologist and flint knapper extraordinaire (one of who's flint arrowheads, knapped in 1992, I still occasionally wear around my neck, great guy is Phil), but it introduces to you the poetry of one Edward Thomas, who died tragically early, in the Battle of Arras in 1917.

Go read "Roads"- https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/57265

If you don't feel SOMETHING then you have no soul. At least three books of his are definately on my Xmas list.

Darwin alone knows what the rest of this series is going to do to me.

(Yes I am moderately pissed, been working this Saturday, allowed myself a couple of bottles of Westons Vintage Reserve Cider while The Wife is out watching "the Fake News Show" being filmed)

Still, I know something profound when I see it. Go take a look.
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Cortex Classic vs Cortex Plus...
hotfoot_jackson
Been looking respectively at my Serenity and Firefly RPGs. Both by Margaret Weis Produtions, both using their in house Cortex System, but while Serenity uses the older Cortex rules, when Firefly came out they switched to their new system, Cortex Plus.

I must admit the look of the newer books is beautiful, and Cortex Plus did promise a lot, but even then I had something in me that just didn't click with it. I think it's the whole Asset/Complication thing, the way players can elect to gain or step them up during play to balance out other effects. Some say it's a way of incorporating storytelling into the game, but for me it seems like it's a way of reducing storytelling to rolling dice. Why not simply roleplay, for example, your players taking cover rather than have to create a D4 "Under Cover" asset. It's like poker, but I don't want to play poker, I want to play a Firefly RPG and with Cortex Plus I get the feeling that you end up playing the system rather than the game.

I did see another review of both where the reviewer could see players gaining more and more complications in order to stay in play until it turned into a "Death Spiral" (his words) where the player had no chance of winning. In the end he and all his players went for Classic over Plus. Cortex Plus has received a lot of acclaim and users say that the old system was too linear, but there's a part of me that wants linear, it keeps the overall plot of the adventure on track and makes the game flow faster. Cortex Classic is a simpler system and, to an old hand like myself who grew up with GURPS, D20, Traveller, etc., it seems to suit the setting of Firefly better. I also like the way the ships are more of a character in the old system.

So while I really do like the look of the shiny new Firefly books, I'll be using them as source material and adventure ideas, I'll be playing them with the good ol' Serenity Cortex Classic system.

Besides, the Serenity books have deck plans in them. The Firefly ones? Not so much, and what's the Gorram use in that?
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Excellent...
hotfoot_jackson
I have acquired the Cyberman supplement for the old FASA Dr Who RPG. Not from Amazon you understand, oh hell no, "Three used from £680"? Yeah, right. Fortunately Spirit Games up in Burton on Trent had a copy for a slightly more reasonable £40. I've been promising it to myself for a few months and finally got around to picking it up. Fortunately the Spirit Games stocklist is only accessible via their website and you'd have to go to the "Secondhand Games" section before you find it, so it was quite well hidden. Did mention I was going to pick it up on this blog before but since it's mine now I can reveal the source.

Spirit Games is one of the old school RPG shops that has been going for years, originally started in Croydon I believe before moving oop north, I've been dipping in there since at least the early 90's.

It's timely too with the old Mondasian Cybermen making a reappearance in Dr. Who this season. The earliest and possibly the creepiest incarnation of the cybermen and far from the stompy "DELETE!" spouting silver giants we've seen of late.

My Brain is Full of Ponies...
hotfoot_jackson
Mainly because I have purchased "Tails of Equestria", the official "My Little Pony - Friendship is Magic" RPG. I didn't even know this was coming out until a few days before, and Orc's Nest hadn't even bothered to order it in as they didn't think anyone would want it. Well I wanted it, so they got one for me and a few others on the offchance they might sell. Which they did I was informed later, very quickly too.

It is, as one might expect, a game with simple mechanics, stats and skills ranged from D4 (colts, filies and beginners) up to D20 (deities, heroes and experts) and tasks rated for difficulty likewise, 2 the easiest, 20 almost impossibly difficult, roll equal or higher and you've succeeded.

You choose your pony from Earth, Pegasus and Unicorn, each with their own special abilities (Pegasi fly, obviously, Unicorns have magic, starting with telekinesis, and Earth ponies are strong and tough). You decide if a pony will be brainy (giving you a D6 Mind stat and a D4 Body stat) or strong (giving you a D4 Mind stat and D6 Body stat. Everyone starts with a D6 Charm stat. Earth ponies boost the body stat up by one dice, they also get 12 stamina rather than the usual 10.

Nobody gets to play an Alicorn you note, no powergaming here, neither do you get to play the Mane Six.

Anyway then you select the Element of Harmony that most represents your pony (Kindness, Generosity, Laughter, Loyalty, Honesty and Magic), this is more for plot elements rather than any distinct advantage it gives you, You start with one Talent at D6, your special talent that is reflected in your cutie mark. Tasks are nomally carried out using the relevant Stat, if you have a Talent you can use too you roll another dice for that and take the highest score showing (dice rolls are open ended, roll maximum and you can roll the next level of dice to see if you get a higher score, the game calls it the "Exploding Hoof Technique".

Than all you have to do is give your pony a name, design your cutie mark and away you go. Like I said, simple.

Like the FATE system you also have a variable number of "Friendship Tokens" to assist in task challenges, one lets you reroll, two let you roll a D20 instead and three mean you automatically pass. Once they're gone they're gone, but you can earn them back during game play (a bit like Force points in the GDW Star Wars RPG as well come to think of it).

It's a bright, cheerful little game (combat is called "Scuffles" and nobody dies). it's well written, with lots of good advice for the GM. Despite its simplicity there's a good deal of depth to it, it is more to do with storytelling- character building, problem solving and developing friendships, rather than dungeon crawling and levelling up after all. The production quality of the game is unbelievable; hardback, full colour throughout and lavishly illustrated with images from the show, top notch. You get an introductory adventure "The Pet Predicament" in the book, designed to lead straight into the first published adventure, "Curse of the Statuettes". This I also have now, it's a boxed set with the adventure booklet, a pad of character sheets, a set of six dice (D4 to D20) and a very pretty GM screen. Again, quality is very high, it's a good, well written product and, again, the ending leads into another adventure.

Also your primary adversary, a Unicorn called Moonbeam, is unbelievably cute...

You can get a set of "Tokens of Friendship" as well, 12 purple plastic gems in a drawstring bag, these are frankly a bit small and in practice you'd be better off using something a bit more chunky, I'd use a large set of clear glass marbles I've got (apparently used for flower arranging), or you could use those glass gaming tokens (purple for preference, naturally).

The game is a joint production between two companies, River Horse Games (also responsible for the Jim Henson "Labyrinth" board game and a Terminator miniatures game) and Shinobi 7 (who more usually produce games based on anime shows). Other releases in the pipeline are the "Bestiary of Equestia", which details the many creatures and races you might encounter, and sets of specially themed Earth Pony (marble), Pegasus (gem) and Unicorn (glitter) dice, each coming with a mini-adventure.

Naturally Orc's Nest has a standing order to get me one of everything from now on. Being ponies as it is, it might not be everyone's cup of tea, but imagine your player's faces when, expecting perhaps Warhammer chaos spikey bits, they are informed they'll be playing a small multicoloured pony.

They might lynch you, but it'll still be funny. 

Admiring the Scenery...
hotfoot_jackson
Not in the real world you understand, although that is very nice now. A few weeks ago I was in Swansea and took a walk around the Mumbles and Gower coast, seeing the first green leaves and the gorse blossoming in the sun, filling the air with it's sweet coconut scent. It's out in force around the Woodford golf course too, took a walk around there a few days ago. All the trees now coming into leaf, the bright green of the hawthorn, the darker green of the horse chestnuts and the gold-green of the oaks all lining the fairways, bluebells in the shade underneath, lovely to see, but I digress.

The scenery I'm talking about is in Hyrule. Yes, The Wife gave in and got herself a Nintendo Switch and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The scenery in the game... It's gobsmackingly, breathtakingly beautiful and so huge in extent! We spend hours just wandering around admiring it, just standing on top of a mountain for ten minutes and watching the sun set and night fall. I thought Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword were wonderful but this isn't just a little better, it transcends them completely. The primary game itself is almost incidental and The Wife did that in a couple of weeks, freed the four Divine Beasts and then, purely by accident while exploring Hyrule Castle, wandered into the ceremonial chamber and triggered the fight with Calamity Ganon (the rootinist tootinist Ganon this side of Death Mountain), who promptly got his arse handed to him.

I don't call The Wife "Nintendo Girl" for nothing, she grew up playing Zelda games.

And all this without exploring more than a quarter of the game world, it's huge. Shrines to find (she's done 82 out of 120 so far), side quests to accomplish (over 50%) and things to kill. And eat. You spend a lot of time admiring the wildlife and then shooting it in the head to cook up later. When you start you are very low powered and spend most of the time simply running away from things and learning to dread the music that means that a Guardian (big robotic octopus things with a laser eye) has just noticed you. Most baddies are colour coded for your convenience, weakest to strongest- red, blue, black and white. A Hinox is a huge cyclopean giant who you flee in terror from when you first see. Now? She can take down a red Hinox in under ten seconds and even a black one didn't give her too much trouble. Guardians she cheerfully slaughters wholesale to get the parts needed to upgrade her armour, virtually nothing is a threat.

Except Lynels that is. Big minotaur/centaur beasts. Haven't even tackled a red one of those yet, they're on a par with a guardian. The rare white ones are even tougher than Ganon. Their AI makes them considerably smarter than most mooks as well. A challenge for the future, most of the time we just run around exploring and admiring the scenery though.

I say "We", but in truth the wife plays, I just watch and point out things she might have missed. Got the famous Hylean Shield now (the classic Legend of Zelda shield) 'cos I noticed a bombable wall in Hyrule Castle.

What's fun is that the game is so adjustable too, the costumes you can collect (and dye different colours), the interactions with the people you meet that will vary depending on what you wear as well. You can run around virtually naked save for the pair of pants Link (our hero) wakes up in and people will react to that too. The game will bear repeated replays because virtually everything will be different the next time around, the order you do things in, the places you go first, even the times of day or night you have your first encounters with enemies and people.

If you're not into gaming or the Zelda games then this is all just so much drivel to you I imagine, and apologies for that. But if you are and haven't got it yet I can't recommend it highly enough, it really does live up to the hype, a breath of fresh air. A Breath of the Wild.

I Has a Sad...
hotfoot_jackson
A little while back in this blog I mentioned a small Cherry tree that I pass on my way to and from Woodford Station that bloomed stupidly early in the year. It did so again this year, early in January, despite the cold, delicate pink blossoms, practically the first flowers of the year, long before the snowdrops, reminding you that spring was on its way, even if it was still far off.

Well it won't bloom ever again. Yesterday I was coming out of the Woodford Co-op and I saw a branch on the grass of the small green outside and thought "Oo! That looks just like that little Cherry tr... Ah."

It was that little Cherry tree. Some mindless pratt had snapped it in half. Why? What makes somebody do such a pointless act? Did it make them feel big? Did they think it was clever? Destroying a whole sapling with their bare hands. What a man!

Perhaps they just have no capacity to create anything and have to desperately try and find some confirmation of their sordid little existence in a stupid act of destruction. If they're like this all the time then you feel they must be even less than worthless, they have negative value, the world would be a better place without them. A horrible thing to say about another human being perhaps, but still. I'm not angry, just sad.

I started well today, the weather was mild and fine, as I crossed over the top of the ridge and started down the other side of the valley, passing over the green there was a wren, flitting ahead of me and bouncing up to the top of bushes to sing.

How does such a little bird produce such a loud, clear song? They were always my Father's favourite.

Anyway then I walked down the hill, still feeling good, and then saw the pathetic broken trunk where the little Cherry used to be. Bam. No more happy.

On the way home I plucked a little twig off the remnant on the grass outside Co-op, just a few open flowers and a bud, the terminal bud of leaves just starting to unfurl, wore it in the buttonhole of my coat as I walked home and stuck it in one of the plant pots outside the kitchen door.

I have no expectations it will grow, Cherries don't do that, a Willow yes, a Thorn perhaps, but not a Cherry. I also know that this is a commercial cultivar and there must be thousands of clones of it all over the UK, perhaps some quite close.

But still, I will miss that enthusiastic little Cherry tree on my winter walks to work.

Summoned by Distant Towers....
hotfoot_jackson
Took a walk today down Snake's Lane to Woodford Bridge then up the other side to the entrance to the Repton Park estate, the grounds of which were designed by Humphrey Repton. We didn't manage to sneak in today, it's a private estate with a man at the gate. We did manage it last year, when a more laid back guard reckoned we were harmless and let us in. Not this time though, perhaps it was the hat, but I digress.

The Repton Park estate label is just the current name however, and very new, it used to be the Claybury Psychiatric Hospital, closed down in 1997. Most Londoners in this area are vaguely aware of it from the square, pointy-roofed tower that sits on a promontory overlooking the whole north-east of the area. You can see the damned thing for miles around.

It's actually a three bedroom house now, worth about a million and a half, although I could cheerfully throttle the designer of the interior. A stupid kitchen on the top floor, radiators placed in front of the signature round windows up there! Space just wasted in the rest of the layout! Sheesh! Look up "Landmark Tower and "Repton" to find estate agents' descriptions, including floor plans. Even I could have done so much more with it, definitely have a lounge on the top floor. I have a plan with every floor themed on a decade, counting down from the uppermost, 80's lounge at the top (with huge leather sofas and minibar, natch) and the 70's kitchen/diner below, etc. Sigh.

The rest of the hospital is similarly residential now, but it's quite eerie looking around it, it seems just a little too neat, a little too regular, overly quiet and controlled. It reminds me of the "Village" from the old "The Prisoner" TV show. You half expect Rover to come bouncing around the corner. Anyway, if you can blag your way in for a look around it's well worth it.

I was first made aware of it from Iain Stewart's "Rodinsky's A-Z", a somewhat limited edition book I picked up (in the Covent Garden Waterstones in fact) a few years ago. David Rodinsky was this strange and reclusive Jewish scholar who lived above a synagogue in the East End until he vanished in the 1960s, his rooms remaining untouched for decades until people rediscovered them and found his strange writings trying to draw together the roots of all languages. He actually ended his days in a psychiatric hospital in South London, Epsom I think it was, but his sister was incarcerated in Claybury.

Sinclair is a fan of Rodinsky and used his strangely annotated A-Z of London to plan some of his own excursions, which led him to South Woodford and to remark on the tower he could see dominating the landscape. He collaborated with one Rachael Lichtenstein to produce the book "Rodinsky's Room", which explores the history of this strange individual and it is well worth the read, if only to see how infatuated Lichtenstein becomes with Rodinsky, to the extent of finally tracking down his last resting place in the Jewish Cemetery in Waltham and even naming her first born son David in his memory.

Anyway we had a nice walk in the old ancient woodland on the slopes to the west of the estate. Good load of wild garlic there, you could smell it in the air, and the bluebells come May are going to be spectacular. Then we had a very nice couple of pints of Stowford Press cider in The Crown and Crooked Billet pub in Woodford Bridge (a most excellent hostelry) and headed home. In all a good day, even if we didn't get to walk around the estate again.

A "Crooked Billet", incidentally, is a bent and twisted branch some pubs used to hang over their doors to act as a marker that this was indeed a tavern, in days before the more usual pub signs became widespread. It's a very traditional pub name now.

Isn't that nice to know.

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