Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A dirge without music

I just feel tired.

Phil Bardsley, my friend of 25 years, passed away in the early hours of January 3. He'd been ill, but this was unexpected.

His wife Karen texted me on the preceding Thursday that he was in the hospital because he had trouble breathing. This wasn't the first time he had to spend a few days in the hospital and by now it seemed routine.

He'd been in and out of poor health for the last decade. In 2005, he was diagnosed with kidney disease. He spent two years on dialysis (administered at home by Karen). He went through a viral infection that destroyed several vertebrae in his spine and required a titanium cage to be built and fused with the good vertebrae using bone taken from his leg. In 2008 a coworker donated a kidney for a transplant, which freed him from the hated routine of dialysis. The anti-rejection drugs kept his immune system low and he was often prey to viruses that would never affect most of us more than causing a slight sniffle. For him, they could be life threatening.

Lately it all seemed to be taking an increasing toll on his well-being and he'd carried along an oxygen tank with him for the last two years. Once robust, his stamina had gotten so low that he could only walk short distances and stairs were out of the question.

When he went into the hospital last week, Karen kept me up to date, as she often did. I expected to be able to visit him, but his condition was such that he needed rest and could barely talk without getting severely out of breath. They expected to move him to a rehab unit on Tuesday where he would be more amenable to visitors, but I found a text from Karen waiting for me Tuesday morning telling me that Phil died during the night. The hospital called her around 3:00 AM to say that he was failing fast and by the time she got there he had died.

I was just over at his house on December 23rd oohing and ahhing at his new 75-inch flat-screen TV while we ate pizza and watched Guardians of the Galaxy. It's surreal to think that suddenly he's not here anymore.

Phil had a lot of interests and appetites. There was an epicurean richness to his lifestyle. For a while, Scotch and cigars were all the rage. He'd host gatherings at his house and three of four of us would fog up his back room while we drank and smoked and watched war movies on his big-screen TV. We used to go on expeditions to cigar stores around the area looking for much-coveted Fuentes Opus X cigars. When we found them, we'd sit in the cigar bar smoking and drinking some premium brew. We also accessorized our habit with fancy torches, cutters, and humidors.

He loved to barbecue and was a master of the grill. Steak 'n' shrimp, ribs, salmon, brisket—he loved trying new things and religiously watched the cooking shows for new ideas. For a while he mastered the art of crème brûlée. He loved bringing out his torch and caramelizing the sugar to create the perfect hard shell atop a wondrously smooth vanilla-bean custard.

Around 2004 or so, he pulled me into his enthusiasm for premium sodas. We made several excursions to the Fremont district in Seattle to visit Real Soda, a vendor who supplied a lot of classic and hard-to-find premium sodas (like Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper made with cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup). I'm fatter today because of all that soda. Sugar exacts its price.

We loved to eat and shoot. We regularly went out on what I called shoot some/dim sum expeditions: dim sum brunch at Noble Court in Redmond followed by a few hours on the range at Wade's Eastside Guns. Karen joined us on several occasions packing her pink lady's gun. Phil loved his pistols. He had a beautiful Kimber Eclipse Pro II with custom-made ivory grips engraved with his family crest. He was also fond of shaking the neighboring shooter's bays by firing his .357 Magnum. Later on, he got a Taurus Judge and we had a blast shooting .410 shotgun shells from it. We would also go out to WAC gun shows in Monroe and Puyallup until the exertion of wandering a large exhibition hall got to be too much for him. I don't recall our last outing at the range. Phil and Karen went a few times somewhat recently, which I declined. I wish now I'd made the time to join them.

For a while in the 90s and early 2000s we were into photography. He and I both had Olympus 35mm SLRs and we traded tips and tools for taking the best pics of our painted miniatures. The results were sometimes good and sometimes too much (and sometimes pretty lousy). I recall a very, very macro shot of a 1/6000th scale Nimitz class carrier that looked stunning to the naked eye, but subjected to intense magnification looked like a cake someone had left out in the rain. We lost our enthusiasm for macro and focused more on lighting and increasing depth of field. My fumbling photography skills don't do his figures justice.

Louisiana Tigers - one of Phil's best efforts
Phil was an expert painter, which made his figures such noble subjects for photography. Stubbornly old school, he was one of the few (or only) gamers in NHMGS who used enamels to paint his figures. The results were legendary. Before he started miniature gaming, Phil was painting 54mm figures for display. He applied the painstaking methods of painting larger single figures to painting miniature armies. I'd often see works in progress and wonder how he had the patience to do that. Even then, I picked up a lot of tips from Phil and grew to be a better painter by his example. I always think "Bardsley scrub" when I use the technique of scrubbing a lightened version of a color over the solid hue to get a less starkly chromatic version. Phil used it mostly on his excellent 1/300th scale aircraft, preferring to use more traditional highlighting and shading on his 28mm figures.

1/300th Navy Phantoms in Vietnam
1/300th Emily flying boat - masterpiece of the Bardsley scrub
Show and tell was always a feature of social gatherings. I'd often come to dinner at his house with a box or two of painted figures in tow. We'd sit out on his patio on a summer afternoon sipping mint juleps (amply supplied by Karen) and talk shop. He loved seeing what other people were painting and had a keen appreciation for others' skills. He stopped competing in our Enfiade! painting contests after he won too many times running, but he always liked to peruse the contest entries.

Bonaparte at Borodino diorama set
We often traveled about the Seattle-Tacoma area browsing hobby shops and bookstores. Hobby shops were especially interesting if they carried Wargames Foundry figures, which were generally only available by mail order to the UK, but available (for a short while) at a couple stores. Phil loved to paint the best figures available. Comstock's Books in Auburn was a favorite haunt. We'd go and browse David Comstock's special reserve in the back room for the hard-to-find volumes on planes, tanks, etc.

I bought my 350z in 2007 and next year Phil traded in his lumbering SUV for a nifty BMW Z4. Cars were briefly a shared enthusiasm and Phil discovered Griot's Garage in Tacoma which prompted a few trips to stock up on top-shelf car cleaning products. (For a while, Phil was buffing the Z4 every month to keep up the shine.) It was fun to alternate our road trips between my Z and his Z4. On on rare sunny days in the Pacific Northwest, it was a pleasure to roar down I-5 with the top down.

Phil was there when my car failed me. One Christmas Day we had a deep, lasting snow that shut down the roads to most traffic. My beautiful but inefficient 350z couldn't even get me out of the driveway in ice and snow. I was stuck and unable to travel to be with my family. Phil drove up over  the unplowed roads in Karen's car to bring me back to their place for Christmas dinner. A kindness I've always remembered.

Wargaming, the hobby through which we met, featured in a lot of social interactions. For some time Phil and Paul Hannah put on regular air games using 1/300th scale airplanes. Phil and Paul painted models that were the envy of us all.  Phil's mass of B-24 bombers that he painted for their Ploesti game was awe-inspiring. Lately, we played a lot of Bolt Action WW2 skirmish games, which Phil was fond of. We would get together with Bill Stewart and Dick Larsen and a few others who showed up from time to time and spend an early afternoon at the Panzer Depot. Phil's 28mm Afrika Korps were magnificent. He and I had started 28mm North Africa around 2001 or 2002. The project went into a long haitus with us both having half-painted forces boxed away somewhere, but it came back strong when Warlord Games released their rules. Phil also painted some American tanks for the Pacific War. Just a few weeks ago he was urging me to set up a Bolt Action game of Marines versus Japanese sometime in the new year.

Phil makes a point, while Paul looks dubious
Phil had a knack for finding cool stuff, which often started abortive (or just slowly gestating) projects. Phil got into 40mm AWI, ACW, and Napoleonic after discovering the excellent lines from Sash and Saber, Front Rank, and Perry. He also found the Smooth & Rifled skirmish rules online, which started a few projects going. He and I played a game with them once and later got Bill involved in another, both using 40mm ACW figures. That got me started painting some 40mm ACW myself, but started is as far as I got (there are still a few barely started on my painting table). It did inspire me to paint my 40mm prehistorical Europeanoids, which have featured in a few games with Phil.

But games over the last years became fewer and farther between. We'd plan a game, but Phil's health kept us from playing. He made a lot of effort to play because he enjoyed the camaraderie and banter. With Phil and Bill in a game, the banter was mercilessly droll. We all share the desire to roll our dice solely among good friends whenever possible and we were never disappointed by our games.

Phil loved his dogs. Our friendship has spanned three generations of Shelties: The Tipper and Jake years, the Simon and Sadie years, and the current Bo, Cooper, and Laddie (a.k.a. Mr. Science) years. Every visit to Chez Bardsley required running the gauntlet of excited barking dogs just to get in the door. They hung around Phil, who was always the alpha in the house, but always extended a welcome to me. I don't know what they'll do now without him. We fear our losing our pets, but not often that our pets will lose us.

I miss him deeply already. If he were still alive, I might go weeks without talking to him, texting him, hanging out with him, but when we got together again, it would seem as if we'd only just parted the day before. Now I know that we won't meet again and I lament all the good times that might have come and regret the many passed opportunities now gone forever.

Rest in peace, Phil. You were a prince among men, a generous and gracious host, and loyal friend. You are missed by all who knew you.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.

Edna St. Vincent Millay


  1. I am grieved at you loss. Phil sounds like the type of friend we all want to have, but never encounter.

    Sadly, it seems these types of posts are popping up with dreadful regularity.

    My thoughts and prayers for you, Phil, and your families.

  2. What a great eulogy to a dear friend. My condolences to you and his family.

  3. Sad to hear of the passing of a wargaming comrade RIP, Tony

  4. What a beautiful post about your friend and you were so fortunate to have someone like him in your life. You,him and his family are in my prayers and thoughts.

  5. Sounds like a great guy and an even better friend. Very sorry for your loss.

  6. The kind of friend we would all wish for! If Phil could read this he'd be stoked to know he meant so much to someone and how deeply they knew and appreciated him. Sorry for your loss David.