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

Monday, 16 January 2017

1809 Spaniards - Latest Group Photo

I've promised myself I'd do this for a while. In any case, I need to get photos of individual finished units to get my Napoleonic Catalogue back up to date (yes, I am sad enough to keep one of these!), and the 1809 army has now grown to the point where it can be photographed on its own, without any walk-on extras to swell the spectacle.

From this end, groups are Vanguard, 1st Divn, 2nd Divn, Reserve, Cavalry
and Irregulars
...and here we're looking back the other way
For anyone who has not come across this army before, it has to be explained that I already have a reasonably sized 1812-vintage Spanish nationalist army, but I gradually acquired enough bicorned castings to consider building a separate one for 1809. This army is based (approximately) on the OOB for the period around the Battles of Ucles and Ocaña - the original plan was to have a representation of the Vanguard, First and Reserve Divisions from the historical original, with appropriate cavalry, artillery and engineering services to make a well-rounded wargames army. It soon dawned on me that I could also add in a Second Division consisting of "New" (post 1808) Regiments, simply by drafting all the round-hatted volunteer units from the 1812 army, plus the guerilleros.

Anyway, the army is now shaping up nicely - I am astounded that the inflow of apparently obsolete metal figures continues to trickle on,  so that I now have more than enough for my intended forces - there is some danger of the Grand Plan expanding again, so I shall watch for that temptation. It is useful to go through this photography exercise - it summarises progress to date, gives me a stock check on what is still to be done, and it is - after all - fun.

Vanguard (still short of a battalion of grenadiers and two of light infantry) and
First Division on the right (short of one battalion of lights)

Current state of the Vanguard - 2 bns of La Corona, 1 each of Murcia and
Cantabria, the 1. Voluntarios de Cataluña and the Provinciales de Jaen

Second Division - 8 assorted round-hatted "new" regiments - including 3 of
light infantry - plus the Provinciales of Granada

Reserve Division (short of 2 bns of the Royal Guard, 2 of grenadiers and 1 of
lights) and cavalry (only the light cavalry is present - 4 units of heavier cavalry
still to be painted, any time soon...)

Current state of the Reserve - 1 bn each of the Walloon Guards, Irlanda,
Provinciales of Cordoba and 2 bns of Ordenes Militares

Light cavalry - leading unit is the Husares de Extremadura (formerly the
Husares de Maria Luisa)

These are the guerilleros - irregulars or armed civilians - they do not normally
appear with the field army, but are useful in a variety of situations - in siege
situations troops like these may serve on the walls alongside the regulars

Figures from Falcata, SHQ/Kennington, Qualiticast, even the odd HaT!
Apart from the missing units noted (still to be painted), I still need quite a few more generals and staff figures, there is at least one more company of foot artillery to come and I haven't started on the engineers and zapadores yet.

It is going rather well, though! Thanks - once again, very much - to everyone who has helped with supplies of figures and painting services - it wouldn't have happened without you!

This week's version of the target OOB is thus (units marked * are still to be painted)

1 & 3/La Corona (IR #5)
1/Murcia (IR #19)
1/Cantabria (IR #21)
Converged grenadier bn*
1. Vols de Cataluña (light)
Bn de Campo Mayor* (light)
Prov de Jaen

1st Divn
1 & 3/Reina (IR #2)
1 & 3/Africa (IR #6)
1 & 3/Burgos (IR #18)
Converged grenadier bn
Vols de Valencia* (light)
Prov de Ciudad Real

2nd Divn
8 bns of "new" infantry (borrowed from 1812, incl 3 light)
Prov de Granada

1 & 2/Guardias Reales Españoles*
1/Guardias Walones
Granaderos Provinciales de Andalucia*
1 & 3/Ordenes Militares (IR #31)
1/Irlanda (IR #36)
Granaderos del General*
Vols de Gerona* (light)
Prov de Cordoba

Dragones de Pavia*
Husares de Extremadura
Husares Españoles (to be replaced with better figures...)
Cazadores de Olivencia
Cazadores "Vols de España"
Granaderos a Caballo Fernando VII

Foot Artillery - 4 companies (1 still to be painted)

Garrison artillery*
Engineers, Sappers etc*

Partidas, Irregulars

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Hooptedoodle #248 - an Organisation and Methods approach to the Music Hall

I’m not sure why I was thinking about this. Having thought about it, I reminded my wife about it, and I had a good laugh (again) – there is a faint risk that I have mentioned this story here before, since I am fond of it, but I don’t think so.

The underlying theme is the ancient world of the English music hall theatre – and especially of the seaside variety show. The significance of the seaside thing is simply that it was always a tradition that audiences when on their holidays would laugh at or applaud anything, even if

(1) It was rubbish

(2) They hadn’t understood it

(3) They hadn’t heard it properly

(4) They had heard it – last year, same theatre, same act

Hence the longevity of all those tap-dancing children, idiot ventriloquists and performing seals – and so on. Life forms which could not have survived for an instant in any other environment.

The focus of our study tonight, my friends, is the 2-man comedy act. Everything was very formalised – you might say formulaic. There will be a Funny Man and there will be a Stooge (who is even less funny than the Funny Man), and there is a classic form of (terrible) joke which has a very strict format. The following well-known examples will serve:

Funny Man: I say, my wife has gone to the West Indies.
Stooge: Gone to the West Indies? Jamaica?
FM: No – she went OF HER OWN ACCORD….

FM: I say, my dog has no nose.
Stooge: No nose? How does he smell?

FM: I say, there’s a man outside, stealing your gate.
Stooge: Stealing my gate? Did you try to stop him?

And that’s quite enough – you will certainly know other examples, and they will all be funnier than the chosen three.

To get to the point, my musician friend The Hat and I got to discussing this form of joke, over a beer. We felt that, though it might be traditional, it was due a bit of a makeover. First of all, we considered simply changing the expected punchline, since no-one would notice and they would laugh anyway, since the joke form has a kind of rhythm which makes it obvious in which gap the laughter is required. If, we reasoned, the first example (the Jamaica one) ended with the FM saying, “No – she went to Trinidad” then it completely defeats any last trace of humour, since the wretched pun is cancelled, but we were pretty sure the laughter would be undiminished – in fact, we ourselves would laugh along quite loudly, so it might actually be increased a little.

However, we realised we were really just playing around with the idea, and that it would make more sense if we set ourselves some serious objectives – made our improvement more worthwhile in some way. Well, most English seaside resorts these days are a bit short of money, so we thought that if somehow we could simplify the jokes a bit – shorten them – it would get them over quicker. Since they weren’t funny to start with, the cash saving of not having the janitor hanging around for quite so long (waiting to sweep up), might be very welcome. We quickly became aware that our new, streamlined versions of the jokes were not funny at all, but the originals were not noticeably funny either, so we persevered.

The first modification was to cut out a line – this meant that the Stooge now delivered what served as a punchline (or at least the last line in the exchange, even if it lacked punch). Thus, with some change in job titles, the first example now reads:

FM1: I say, my wife has gone to the West Indies.
FM2: Gone to the West Indies? I bet she went of her own accord.

You may debate whether this ranks as an improvement – certainly the cost accountants on the council are very pleased – the comedy act now only lasts 4 minutes in total.

We think the new format will become accepted, though it may take a little while to bed in with the more conservative audiences, but we have not been idly resting on our laurels – we have an even shorter version in the laboratory – the most efficient joke form yet developed:

FM: I say, my wife has gone to the West Indies of her own accord.

Or, another of our examples:

FM: I say, my dog smells terrible.

Good, eh? You getting the hang of this? The council will love it, because we’ve actually got rid of one complete employee, and the delivery time is even shorter. Fantastic. We think it still needs a little work, but maybe you could all do a little offline testing for us – convert some jokes of your own to this new, efficient format, and try them on your friends. In the pub, if you like. I’d be delighted to know how you get on – The Hat and I are dedicated to continuous improvement, and we appreciate any help we can get.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

1809 Spaniards - Flagging Effort?

Today I have attached flags to the 5 recent new(ish) battalions of my 1809 Spanish army which were waiting for them. Another small step for mankind - pleased with them, actually.

From left, front row: 1/Cantabria; 1 & 2/Ordenes Militares, all marching into the customary stiff breeze

Back row: 1 & 2/La Corona.

All the rank and file are NapoleoN figures, while the command are a mixture of NapoleoN and Falcata, with a few conversions thrown in.

Good - they are now safely put away in the boxes, ready to fight. I feel an urge to set up a more complete group picture of the state of the Spanish army in the near future. I'll do this.

As for the next painting batches, I am giving some thought to doing two battalions of the Guardias Reales. This will probably break down into two batches - a fussy one with all the command, and then a factory one for the rank and file. This will be the second guard presence in the Reserve Division - I already have the Guardias Walones - the uniform is very similar, but the Reales will be rather scruffier, partly because I shall be the painting service (!) and partly because they will be in blue overalls rather than those dashing high gaiters.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Hooptedoodle #247 - Hmmm

This was passed to me - I have no idea where it came from, and certainly no right to borrow it, but - at the end of a Christmas holiday which seems to have been dominated by arguments about how much time my son might be able to spare from his computer games and his new phone - it does have a certain wistful quality.

Of course, why should we care about the thoughts of an old man, with wrinkly skin and unconditioned hair? [No - I am referring to Albert...]

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Napoleon's Town Guards

Holiday period, another quiet day. This morning I was browsing Alfons Canovas’ blog, and was very taken by his feature on the part of the Charmy Splendeur series which relates to the units of Gardes d’Honneur of various towns and cities in Napoleonic France – very pretty indeed – hmmm.

It reminded me that there are vast areas of Napoleon’s second line and regional forces which I have never really understood. I’m looking at some splendid chaps in Alfons’ blog – the Gardes d’Honneur of Lyon, Metz, Nantes, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Bayonne etc – if ever you needed a questionable case for some spectacular painted units for your collection, you need look no further. I shall have a look through the appropriate volumes of Elting and so on, but I was just wondering (idly), at what strength did these units exist? I note that they had both foot and mounted companies, did they have any duties beyond making the town look good on ceremonial occasions? did they do actual police or garrison work? did any of them ever serve in the field? what relationship (if any) did they have to the Garde Nationale, or the regulars? who designed the uniforms? – the mayor? To whom did they belong – the town or the army?

I read somewhere, as an example, that the Nantes unit comprised 120 foot, 80-odd horse, 20 officers and a 26-piece band, which sounds a bit ceremonial, maybe, but I would guess that the full answers to these queries might well be the content of a PhD course somewhere, and I wondered if anyone could point me to some useful general reading. I only half-seriously thought about painting some of these fellows, but the Lyon unit is particularly splendid – white uniforms with pink facings, musicians in red. Mouth-watering. I’d have them like a shot if it made any sense. To put this into context, last night I’d half-convinced myself that one of the spare French units in the lead mountain might usefully become a battalion of the Legion Hanovrienne – mainly because my growing interest in French sieges in Spain reminded me that this unit was in (I think) Loison’s Division of VI Corps until Sept 1811, and they look interesting, in red-with-blue-facings. I have not rejected this idea yet.

I already have a bigger paint queue than I can comfortably live with, by the way…

I’d like to do some gentle reading on the various types of second line soldiers. I realise that definitions sometimes became blurred as necessity dictated. My French field army for Spain 1811-13 (in The Cupboard) already contains a battalion each of the Chasseurs des Montagnes and the Garde de Paris, because I know that is historically correct, but they are also there (obviously) because they enrich the toy army a bit with some colour and variety (and, often, with unpredictable behaviour on the battlefield).

Monday, 2 January 2017

New Year in Scotland - Looks Pretty Good, Too

Since the morning was clear (though freezing cold) we went for a walk on the beach here at the farm. Very pleasant. Blew away a few cobwebs. The countryside is always waiting for us, a solace and an inspiration - we really should get down there more often.

Photography courtesy of Mme la Contesse.

Tantallon Castle - if you listen hard, you can hear General Monck's guns from 1651

I also include a short movie clip from our walk - note the Bass Rock (not white now - all the gannets went away to Africa or somewhere a while ago) and the threatening hulk of Tantallon across the next bay. The hazy hills over the water are in Fife.


You know, I think it's going to be all right.

******* Late Edit *******

I'd have included this earlier, but I couldn't find it. Ted Hughes is probably not very cool these days (as in "not trending"), and in any case we are a bit early for March, but this is his "March Morning Unlike Others", which I always loved, and which somehow captures the way in which the steady, reassuring passage of the seasons is a source of comfort to us poor humans:

Blue haze. Bees hanging in the air at the hive-mouth.
Crawling in prone stupor of sun
On the hive-lip. Snowdrops. Two buzzards,
Still-wings, each
Magnetized to the other,
Float orbits.
Cattle standing warm. Lit, happy stillness.
A raven, under the hill,
Coughing among bare oaks.
Aircraft, elated, splitting blue.
Leisure to stand. The knee-deep mud at the trough
Stiffening. Lambs freed to be foolish.

The earth invalid, dropsied, bruised, wheeled
Out into the sun,
After the frightful operation.
She lies back, wounds undressed to the sun,
To be healed,
Sheltered from the sneapy chill creeping North wind,
Leans back, eyes closed, exhausted, smiling
Into the sun. Perhaps dozing a little.
While we sit, and smile, and wait, and know
She is not going to die.

Hooptedoodle #246 – Donkey Award – A Matter of Identity

I'm not quite sure what this man is doing, but the process of providing acceptable
proof of identity often feels very like this. I must get one of those hats.
Recently my mother has moved into a residential care home, and I’ve been busy selling her house and sorting out her various financial affairs – there are, as a trivial example, a considerable number of organisations who have to be notified of her change of address.

I have had Power of Attorney (PoA) in place for some 8 years or so now – for which I am very grateful – when the time comes for you to use it, it can come in a hurry.

A recurrent issue in the last few weeks has been the need to establish identity – usually mine (as agent or attorney), but – for purposes of money laundering and the actual sale of the house – proof of my mother’s identity has also been required.

Now this security thing is a weird industry – I know all about why this has to be done, why organisations have to be certain that they are dealing with the people they think they are dealing with, but it does seem that the traditional proofs which are acceptable are increasingly out of step with current reality. I’m only part-way through the task, but I’ve seen the same request for the same information many times. Someone will want to see a couple of recent (original) utility bills or bank statements with the individual’s name and address thereupon, and some form of photo ID which identifies the bearer – passport and/or driving licence are the norm. Often someone will also wish to see the original documentation for the PoA – a certified copy is often not accepted – which requires delay, hassle and return registered mail.

Well I can manage most of that, except that just about all my personal business is carried out online these days, so recent paper statements and invoices of appropriate solemnity are not so easy to find. I have been looking after a lot of my mum’s business online in recent years too, but her situation is worse in that she does not have a passport – hasn’t had one since 1985 or so – and she hasn’t had a driving licence for many years. Because she has been housebound she doesn’t have photo ID in the form of a disabled person's parking permit or even an in-force bus pass. This is not a trivial problem.

Example 1: I have attempted to set up an online account for her with the Tax Office (HMRC), since she will now receive her savings income gross and will have to settle the tax liability each year. I got nowhere – if she has neither passport nor current driving licence then the system cannot verify her against other government records, so she doesn’t exist. Thus paper tax returns it will have to be. Hmmm.

Example 2: Two days ago I phoned her pension supplier – the young man was quite firm that he could not accept notification of change of address over the telephone unless we went through the entire rigmarole of sending my PoA forms so that I could be formally registered as the attorney, so that I could notify them of a simple address update – since all the bank account and payment information is to remain the same, this seems a lot like the tail wagging the dog. We’ll gloss over how delighted the young man was to be unable to help me. While I was waiting to be put through to him, however, the voice server system had suggested that I might like to set up an online account with the pension fund. Bingo. Thank you very much – that’s the answer. I set up an online account for my mother (I have all the paperwork here) and simply changed her address online. No problem – I/she/we even got an email thanking me for my trouble.

Excellent. I am adopting the same procedure with her major utility suppliers – create an online account, and use it to notify a change of address and the cessation of the supply. These organisations are delighted that you are doing the work yourself – no-one seems at all concerned that I might, in fact, be an unauthorised alien making free with some poor old lady’s identity. I’m not going to make ripples here – if it works, let’s do it. My handling of her bank accounts is similar – all done online, though if I wished to do it over the counter or on the phone we’d all be frozen in amber until the PoA forms came back from The Legal People, who live far, far away.

My point is only that proving identity is becoming a central theme in our lives, that most people’s lives have moved away from a set-up which readily provides the traditional paper proofs, yet the identity checking built into online customer self-management is (usefully, in this  case) negligible.

How awfully silly.