A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Hooptedoodle #256 - Demography at the Kitchen Window

Yet another Hooptedoodle post is a sure sign that not much is happening here on the hobby front - I am quietly doing some lightweight sessions of painting of Spanish grenadiers, but there won't be much to see of them for a little while.

As anyone who has read this blog before will realise, we are very enthusiastic about the garden birds here at Chateau Foy - since we live on the edge of a decent-sized wood, our bird feeders are very popular at this time of year - especially the sunflower hearts - they are definitely on trend - and there is always something to look at.

Among so many visitors, we are bound to get some oddities, and over the 17 years or so we've lived here we have, I think, seen three examples of albinism. There was once a completely white sparrow, and then there was a male chaffinch with a large white patch on his upper body - they both seemed quite healthy, and were around for a complete season without seeming to get picked on by the other birds.


Now we have this fellow - never seen one like this before. This, clearly, is a common-all-garden European Jackdaw, corvus monedula to our Roman chums, but he is supposed to be all black - his plumage is definitely non-regulation. Rather distinguished looking, maybe?

I am interested that we have seen so few albino specimens - I have no idea how many birds we see in a season - there are many millions of visits over the years, but many of these will be regular returners - at any moment on a sunny day we can see maybe 30 or 40 bluetits, maybe slightly fewer goldfinches, maybe the same again of chaffinches, and so on and so on, all in the garden at the same time, which is the sort of guide to numbers that the RSPB are interested in. How many of these were here this morning, yesterday, last year is unknown, though interesting. An albino is recognisable - you know there's only one of him - so it is hard to get a true impression. Whatever the lack of precision, albinos are obviously rare.

Which begs the further question - are they rare because there are very few hatched, or because they may be weak individuals who do not survive for long? No idea, obviously. The examples we have seen on our feeders seem vigorous enough, but then they would, wouldn't they?

Anyway - this is our current albino jackdaw - say hello. Seems a nice enough chap. It is tempting to give him a nickname of some sort, but it occurs to me that if this nickname made any reference to the colour of his plumage I might be in trouble.

So I shall call him Herbert. Make something of that, if you will.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Hooptedoodle #255 - Goodbye, Johnny B Goode

I would be embarrassed to be seen to offer up another me-too tribute - it's an activity I disapprove of. Private feelings are nicer and somehow more sincere when they remain private.


I am reminded by yesterday's news of the passing of Chuck Berry that - rather to my surprise, in the long run - he was a sort of hero of mine. Someone who made my life a little richer, in the influence he wielded as much as by his own work.

Already the media are wheeling out all sorts of has-beens from show business to make over-inflated utterances about pop music as Great Art, and all that. I really wouldn't know, and would hesitate to attempt an academic assessment.

Berry is especially significant for what he represents. A black man from St Louis, he began recording for Chess Records in the mid 1950s. Chess, bear in mind, were a specialist blues label who published artists like Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Bo Diddley - primarily for black audiences - and a worse fit than Berry with the accepted marketed image of the popular music world of the day is hard to imagine. The spending power of the record-buying teenager was a new phenomenon, and major record labels in the US were struggling to push coiffed, sterilised, parent-approved products such as Johnny Tillotson, Fabian and similar - white, acceptable to the church, not overtly masculine. He was surprisingly old, too - if I recall correctly, his first commercial success, Maybelline, was released in 1955, when he was 29. That is positively ancient.

He was not an admirable character, in many ways. He had spells in prison - notably for tax evasion and (once) for statutory rape (a charge which looks a bit like police entrapment, all these years later). He is famous for being difficult to deal with, complicated, devious. I read his autobiography some years ago and was disappointed - it wasn't a great read, overall, and he came across as an unusually self-obsessed character. I suspect that I wouldn't have warmed to the great man's company. I saw him once, live - he was excellent, a consummate showman, but he was accompanied by a disappointing English tour-band which did nothing for him at all.

There is a definite thread of racism through many of the bad breaks which he suffered - especially in the early years, though his combative personality cannot have helped. He came through a hard school. I read that in the dance-halls and the provincial theatres he got into the habit of threading his guitar lead through the handle of his guitar case before plugging into his amplifier - thus making it impossible for anyone to steal the case without the matter coming to his attention. He also would not play until someone put actual cash into his hand. Incongruously, he still insisted on these technical safeguards when he was appearing at the Paris Olympia - a quirk which is not without a certain rough charm.

It would be wrong to claim that his records were history-changers in their own right - famously, he was very fortunate in that his music impressed the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the (white) rock bands that swept to power in the 1960s. Without that connection, Berry and a lot of his contemporaries would probably have disappeared without trace decades ago. This has all been much-discussed in the past - however it worked, it worked. I love him because of the unpretentious nature of the music (though he did tend to release thinly-disguised rehashes of his earlier successes), and his cute, street-poet lyrics, which offer an interesting social history of American youth.

This is getting close to a tribute, and I wouldn't want that.

Thanks, Chuck. That's really all I wanted to say.


Friday, 17 March 2017

1809 Spaniards - ILLIGITIMI NON CARBURUNDUM

[A tale of success - albeit slow and not very spectacular, but we have to embrace these things when they come along.]

In among the boxes of unpainted figures, there are always a few that I worry about. In my 1809 Spanish army project there are a couple of boxes containing the figures for two battalions of grenadiers, and they have bugged me for a while now. I am going to need these figures - I have nothing else to fall back on unless I move to plastics - but I bought them as part of a big job lot, a while ago, and the previous owner unloaded them cheaply because he just gave up on the poor-quality castings. I knew this when I bought them, but when I saw them I was disappointed by just how bad they were.

Falcata's white metal 1/72 Spanish grenadiers. Lovely, elegant original sculpts - Tomas Castaños at his best, but the moulds started to deteriorate very quickly and the standard of casting (and sometimes the quality of the metal) often leaves a lot to be desired. So for a while I have had 50-odd marching grenadiers which needed a lot of rescue work - in particular the right lower legs had to be recarved from a very unpromising jagged blob of alloy. It astonishes me that Falcata dared to sell stuff like this - they weren't cheap, either. Maybe their eventual disappearance had something to do with an unprofessional approach?

[I shall certainly find a horse's head in my bed tomorrow.]


Off and on, at odd times over a period of a couple of years, I have worked away at these boys, always with a faint dread that I, too, would eventually just give up on them. The work is fiddly, sore on the fingers, slow and often exasperating, but - you know what? - in some weird way it is quite satisfying. To produce a figure, against the odds, which will probably paint up satisfactorily is a small triumph, given the sloppy original manufacture and my lack of any particular skill in this area. You have to get into the right frame of mind - plenty of coffee (but not too much!), plenty of relaxing music, good lighting, and enough time to get on with the job for a couple of undisturbed hours. Oh - and lining the completed figures up is fine to check progress, but avoid constantly checking and rechecking how many are still to go...

It's actually rather nostalgic. It takes me right back to the early 1970s, grinding away to make something of a newly-arrived parcel of late-period Hinton Hunt castings - I can recall ACW zouaves (advancing), Napoleonic highlanders (advancing) and any amount of Napoleonic Portuguese (also advancing) for which I had to drill away big blocks and shark-fins of spare metal where the moulds had broken.


Last night I completed the prep work for the second battalion, at long last - we are ready for undercoating. The command figures were almost an anticlimax - far too easy - just as in the earlier Hinton Hunt episode, the moulds for the officers and drummers had less wear and the castings were much cleaner. OK - they are now on the official green bottle tops. There is no immediate hurry, given the time it has taken already, but I'm quite looking forward to painting them. Apart from the dreaded embroidered flammes on the hats, this is a simple uniform - these guys will be humble granaderos provinciales, so no fancy piping or anything - these are just white with plain red facings. Thus I propose to set these up as a single batch of 46 figures - no doubt I shall regret this decision at some point, but - once again - the important thing is to get your head right before you start. Plenty of time - plenty of 2-hour shifts. Yes. Sounds good.

I'll worry, just a little, about the flammes...


Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Hooptedoodle #254 - Accidental Science Project

Today the Contesse visited her elderly mother (la Duchesse Veuve de Culdechat, who has graced these pages before) in a seaside town not too far from here, on the way to Ingerland. Alas, the poor old lady is not keeping very well these days; one result of this is that she has a house in this seaside town which she does not get to visit very often. In consequence, today my dear Contesse had to meet with an engineer, who was to service the heating system, and - as ever on these visits - a few oddities came to light, all connected with the strange, twilit world which surrounds houses which are mostly unoccupied.


[At night, they say, the stones do not sit peacefully with one another; the customary laws of Nature only apply sometimes, and grudgingly...]

For a start, it seems that the telephone at Maison Culdechat had not only disconnected itself, but may even have changed its number without outside encouragement. This may seem odd to the casual outsider, but to those of us who are more familiar with this twilit world it is just another example of the sort of thing for which we have to shrug and suspend judgement.

However, today's pièce de résistance (or "fixed impedance" as Marconi would have termed it - and, yes, that's Marconi Cheese) turned out to be a pork pie which had been in the fridge since some time before Christmas, we think. If you have ever wondered what such a thing might look like, here it is...


The Contesse was understandably aghast. With rubber gloves and anti-bacterial cleaner she removed the offensive object. The next twilit snag, of course, is that the Duchesse's dustbin almost never gets emptied, so the normal arrangements for domestic waste disposal in this case would fail to cope with an item of such toxicity. We shall draw a discreet veil over the actual steps which the Contesse took to get rid of it - let us simply say that we trust that Nature will, in fact, look after her own and reclaim the pie in the traditional way.

As a potentially useful byproduct, we may have unintentionally helped a local problem with excessive numbers of marauding seagulls - some herring gull is going to have a mighty sore gut by tomorrow. Or else he may have become resistant to all known viruses.


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Hooptedoodle #253 - One for the Film Buffs

I was looking for old pictures of the area where I live, and - quite by chance - I came across this:



[Good grief, Foy, now what? You cancel the Siege of Newcastle, claim force majeur, and now you're fiddling around with... what, exactly?]

Well, actually, I have to explain that this is a photo of Brigitte Bardot (you probably worked that bit out), but it's taken on the beach behind my house - right here on the farm. This is quite a shock - I've grown used to thinking about General Monck and Robert L Stevenson and a few other notables having been around here, and I can cope with having a previously unknown castle within 600 yards of my house, but I never once thought of Brigitte. Well - not in that context.

It seems that in 1966 she was involved in a film titled A Coeur Joie (released in the US as Two Weeks in September), and this film was shot at a variety of places I know well, including Edinburgh Zoo (apparently), Dirleton and (ta-da!) our own Seacliff Beach, as seen here. These pictures also show her co-star, Laurent Terzieff, and blooming cold they look, September or no.

I was gently intrigued. I had a quick look around for reviews of the film, and to see if it is still available (only, you understand, because I wish to see some shots of our beach...), and found that the film is still available in French, without subtitles. There are some Region 1 editions of the English language version, but clips I've seen on YouTube suggest that the dubbing and reshooting with English dialogue is a thing of major embarrassment. So the French version seems a far better bet. However, reviews I've seen also suggest that this may be among the worst films ever made. Thus I am - how do you say? - put off a bit.



This shot shows, in the background, the end of the path by which we walk to our beach.
I never thought of La Bardot sitting there. The slope and the terrain vary from year to
year, depending how much of the beach is left in place by the Spring tides. Obviously
they had a fair amount of sand in 1966, but sometimes it's quite stony. I have to add that
the Contesse Foy's mother fell rather spectacularly at this very spot some years ago; fortunately
she did not injure herself, but we still treasure the memory...


Given a free choice, I would prefer not to watch Brigitte in an embarrassing movie. Not that I am a fan, of course, but because of my love of the art.

Anyone have any views on this minor classic of French cinema? It really doesn't matter - yesterday I didn't even know that a film goddess had once walked among our sandhills, so I can forget all about it quite easily. But, there again...

Sunday, 5 March 2017

A Pain in the Oxide

This may not be a common problem, but it has been a bit of a nuisance for me, and I may have found an answer.

I use quite a lot of these...


This is a 250ml sample tin of interior housepaint - that's (like) wall paint - from Dulux's excellent colour-mixing service. The hardware shop in our village has the special machine, and sells this stuff - which is a remarkable stroke of luck, as anyone who has seen our village will testify. These sample tins cost just a few quid each, and I use this paint for my (Old School, boring) figure bases and my tabletop and I use lots of shades for scenery and buildings. It's great stuff - cheap enough to slap on or dry-brush, and I've never had problems with it.

Except one - for colours such as the Crested Moss #1 base shade, I use smallish amounts, very frequently - a 250ml can would not look at a complete repaint job for the battleboards, obviously, but it will keep me going for a year-or-more's worth of bases and touch-ups. There is the rub, brothers - the metal lid gradually distorts with repeated opening until it is no longer a good fit, and - worse - the inside of the lid rusts, and flakes of rust contaminate the paint. You can't lift off or just stir in the rust flakes and ignore them - if any rust finishes up near the finished surface you will get a brown stain - don't you worry about that.

Typically, for my most frequently-used colours, I throw away about 40% of a tin. Given how cheap the paint is (by Foundry or Vallejo standards) this is not a big problem, but it certainly is a problem at 4pm on a Sunday when you find you are not able to complete the quick basing session you had hoped to squeeze in before dinner. Not so fast, old boy - it's down to the jolly old village hardware store for you tomorrow.

OK - enough griping. I have thought for a while of transferring some of my more frequently-used Dulux "scenery shades" into plastic pots, and have kept an eye open for such a thing. The Contesse spotted these online - a pack of 5 x 250ml clear plastic pots, with watertight, plastic screw-tops (or 10, or 20 - OCD heaven...) will set me back about a pound each, including postage.

One pound is less than the value of the paint I throw away, and then there's the convenience of being able to see the colour, so I can remember what Spring Breeze #3 looks like without putting a daub on the lid. Also, if I take a bit of care keeping the lid clean, I should do away with the poor seal problem. In a spirit of helpful camaraderie I draw these pots to your attention. If you have been using them for years, please just smile patiently and move on.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Mixed Fortune on eBay


How about this then? Just happened to see it on eBay, so decided to indulge myself (all right, indulge myself yet again). This is an old cigar box, not awfully glamorous, but the embossed copper lid makes it just the thing to keep my ECW wargame dice and cards in, so I am really rather pleased.


eBay hasn't been working for me recently - I've had a load of books listed for sale, and had hardly any success - eventually the starting prices were so low that I'd rather give them away, so I've put most of them back in the storage boxes until the market picks up again.

One book I did manage to sell was a near-mint copy of the Esposito & Elting Napoleonic Atlas. At the third attempt, I eventually sold it for about £40, which is a snip by any standards, but I regret that it was bought by a London bookshop, who had it on sale in their online shop for over £120 the same day they received it. Oh well.

Anyway - never mind that. Just look at my tacky cigar box - good, eh?