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

Monday, 18 September 2017

Steve St Clair and a quarter of a million friends

Someone sent me the link to this video; I hadn't seen it before, though I would guess it is very famous. If you have concerns about the size of your current project, or if you are running out of space for your collection, check this out.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Stripping & Grinding Dept - new kit

Well, it's here. With all due gratitude to everyone who provided advice and guidance, I ordered up a Proxxon rotary tool, and it has arrived, as have a couple of rather nifty little work-stand/clamp/things. I have the safety goggles, the bright lights and the Metallica teeshirt (all right, this last bit is a lie) - I am ready to set about those Bavarian plumes, as a kick-off project.

I'm a little nervous about the bulk and the weight of the tool itself - it's certainly more massive than a needle file or a scalpel. If I have difficulties I'll treat myself to the add-on flexible drive, which means you can leave the main tool on the desktop (or on your lap, as shown in a YouTube demo I was watching - that makes me a little nervous too, but OK). The flexible drive means that the thing you hold in your hand to work with is rather like a dentist's drill. I could carry out root-canal work on the Bavarian army.

Might make a start tomorrow, but it all certainly looks good, and the variable speed turns down v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w if you want - very quiet, no vibration. Now I need to work out the full details of my figure orders to 3 different suppliers, to make up my Stage 1 Bavarian OOB for 1809.

Busy-busy. Idle hands are the devil's playthings; an electric grinder in the hands of an idiot is kind of a dodgy proposition too, so I shall read the leaflets this evening. Onward and upward.

Hooptedoodle #277 - Lunch with Sir Henry

This is really about the tricky little matter of accents - or ahxents, or excents, or....

A long, long time ago, when the world still had a little hope left, I was busily engaged at work on a hefty project which was installing new system development methods and tools. As it happens, the firm which employed me was successful and highly respected, and the project - which was a joint effort between Our Lot and an American specialist software house - became a bit of a flagship in the industry for a while. As a consequence, around about 1991 I found myself presenting a series of lectures at conferences - something of a road show, explaining what we were doing, and why everyone else should spend all their money on doing the same things. I was the tame customer expert, a rare and highly prized life form, and the software company shipped me off, with my lecture slides, to London, Paris, Stockholm, Atlanta, Lisbon and - erm - Glasgow.

In the middle of this period, I was invited to have lunch with my company's chairman, Sir Henry. This was not in recognition of my fine work, you understand, nor did it indicate that Sir Henry might just possibly give a rat's about what we were doing. He had recently been criticised in the business press for being almost invisible - in fact, I think the word "almost" was absent from the criticism. Accordingly, a very expensive PR consultancy was now doing a job on him, and one of the Great Steps Forward was that he should host occasional lunches, attended by randomly selected groups of plebs from his firm, so that he could keep up to date on their skills and their efforts to make him even wealthier, and they could come to see what a warm, caring, avuncular old bugger he really was.

It was, of course, a complete charade, not to say an irritating waste of time and money, but he had to be seen to be trying, at least (and he was, I promise you, very trying), and this was really just a small drop in a vast ocean of waste, anyway.

I had hoped that I would be somewhere down at the shallow end of the table for lunch, where I could nod earnestly and make vague, sycophantic "rhubarb" noises as the brighter little sparklers jostled to catch the Knight's eye. Alas (lucky white heather), I was seated at Sir Henry's right hand, and as the soup arrived he was already asking me what I did, and what I was involved in at present.

Taking care to swallow my (deliberately very small) mouthful of crusty roll before I replied, I spoke slowly and clearly, with what I hoped was a well-judged balance between calm enthusiasm and boring technicality, and with absolutely no inappropriate nervous jokes or hints of self-deprecation. It all seemed to be going quite well until I caught sight of Sir Henry's facial expression, which really put me rather badly off my stride.

Sir Henry was peering at me, blinking, as a man might try to peer into a severe gale from the deckhouse of a fishing boat. His back was hunched, his mouth hung open in a grimace of very obvious pain. This remarkable pantomime was evidently something he had perfected in the past, and the very clear message was:

"I can hear that you are speaking, and I recognise some of the words you use, but I fear you have an accent which is unfamiliar to me, and this is something of a problem; it is necessary for me to make a show of putting up with this for a minute or two, but you appear to come from a background which is outside my comfort zone, so keep it brief, will you?"

You see, I am a little challenged in the accent department. I was born and schooled in Liverpool, though my father's own accent belonged more to rural Lancashire, his ancestors being farming people from the Warrington area. At the age of 18 I went to University in Edinburgh (which is in Scotland, by the way) and I have lived in Central and Southern Scotland ever since. Thus my normal speaking voice has evolved over the years - it was probably a bit of a hotch-potch to start with, and then the need to make myself understood (to get fed, for example) required me to modify my vowel sounds and the figures of speech I used over an extended period, so that I am now instantly recognisable, wherever I go, as Someone from Somewhere Else. The Universal Foreigner.

My former schoolmates and my (very few) remaining family members in Liverpool will, without hesitation, identify that I now have a Scottish accent, a suggestion which would astonish my friends and relatives in Scotland, who think I probably sound as if I come from the North of England, though they might not be quite sure where. If I hear recordings of myself speaking, I would say I maybe sound a little like Michael Palin, or maybe Melvyn Bragg - that sort of thing, anyway - fairly vanilla, educated North of England, right enough. Nothing particularly memorable, nor likely to conjure up images of (say) George Formby, or Yosser Hughes. Nothing (I hope) that suggests I might be incapable of joined-up thinking, or might have a tendency to steal the wheels off your car.



However, it seems Sir Henry remembered our brief chat, and subsequently his secretary sent a message to the head of my Division of the company, asking him was he quite happy that someone with my accent should be acting as a spokesman for our fine organisation. My Director, bless him, said that yes, he was quite happy, though he also made sure that I got the message about Sir Henry's discomfort, so we'll give him only a qualified blessing.

So what on earth was all that? Sir Henry had no idea what I was talking about, partly because it was below his horizon but also because he was too frigging dumb. However, he unerringly managed to pick up on the fact that I might not be one of the Chaps. I filed the incident away - I was a little indignant, I guess, but I was quite a tough fellow in those days. I did not propose to be mortally wounded by a posh old tosser like Sir Henry, and I forgot about it all very quickly.

Now, having remembered him, I checked to see what Sir Henry is up to. Perhaps, I pondered, he is no more? - certainly he has, once again, become invisible. A friend and former work colleague confirmed that he is still alive, but, alas, is not keeping very well. The old fellow is now in his mid-eighties, suffered a major stroke some years ago, is confined to a wheelchair, and has great difficulty with speech.

I find that very sad. I was hardly a close friend, obviously, but it is always tragic to witness the downfall of the mighty. One can only hope that he is still wealthy enough to ensure that all the people who care for him and look after his needs do not have regional or Eastern European accents - at his stage of life he most surely does not need the strain of having to pull that face again.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Bavarians - Figure Samples

This is a little selection of figures for which I have already obtained samples. Here are some miscellaneous infantry poses from Falcon, including a rather charming mounted infantry officer, a couple of artillerymen from SHQ/Kennington and a charging grenadier and a OPC chevauxleger from Hinton Hunt.

The castings are resting on a cutting board, and the little squares are 5mm. All these ranges stand 22mm soles to eye, the hats and weapons match, they have sensible human proportions. It all looks rather promising, doesn't it?

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Hooptedoodle #276 - Supellism: from a Dark Place

A previous blog post of mine was intended to be about the labelling of children's clothing, but it accidentally strayed into rather more touchy areas such as stereotyping in society, and prejudice.

I found the experience particularly uncomfortable because, privately, I have recently been troubled by growing doubts about myself. I have never really spoken openly of this before, and I find it hard to write about. Obviously, one has to maintain appearances; one's career and standing in society depend very much on being accepted, and there are clear implications for the interests of our families, but one also has to be at peace with oneself. It is very hard to live a lie.

Let's cut to the chase: I am becoming more convinced that I am not as I may seem to others - in my heart I am - well, to be blunt about it, a wardrobe. I realise this may give rise to some incredulity, but it is true; I am now almost sure that the real me, the me that the everyday world does not get to see, is a fine, handsome wardrobe.

There, I've said it. It wasn't as hard as I expected. I'm not sure that a blog is a good place to discuss this, but I have previously raised the topic with a couple of close friends and their reaction was disappointing, though maybe predictable - exactly the sort of unreasoning, stereotyping behaviour that we have to expect, that so-called social norms instill in people. It was pointed out to me that I do not make it as a wardrobe on a number of counts - organically, materially and functionally. Not even the most devout follower of Thomas Stahlberg could dispute that I fail on one of the key facets of being a wardrobe - i.e. no-one can keep clothes in me, at least not to any useful extent. I am not discouraged; I feel I have to stick to my guns, to follow this through. 

This self-doubt thing is not entirely new. For years, to all outward appearances, I was an actuary working for an insurance company, but there were many occasions when I seriously thought that I would rather be almost anything else. Once, on a flight to Frankfurt, having drunk too much Lucozade, I woke up convinced I was an Eccles cake, but that is a story in itself.

Another story
Naturally, I have looked around on the internet to see if there are others who feel like this, and I have been reassured to find that supellism, as it is called, apparently, is surprisingly common, especially in the USA, though most of the people affected there seem to regard themselves as sofas. I have avoided the self-help fora thus far - too easy to get sucked in (or plumped up), and too many tales of tragedy for my taste. This has to be a positive change, or I'm not going to proceed with it.

I was genuinely flabbergasted to learn that my local County Council - here in rural, unsophisticated Scotland - has a trained, specialist counsellor in exactly this field. That does seem a remarkably long shot, doesn't it? As it happens, she has been on holiday in the Farne Islands for four years, but the message on her voicemail service assures me that she will be in touch as soon as she gets back.

You can have an operation. I don't know too much about this yet, but it seems that it is carried out in stages. The first step is to get yourself veneered - I thought a nice, traditional, satin-finish, light oak would complement my personality best, though I am still thinking about it. I have written off for a leaflet.

A nice, burred oak - tasteful, restrained, dignified
I have also been warned that a number of people and institutions, Her Majesty's Department of Work and Pensions being one, may react unfavourably to my coming out as a wardrobe. No-one suggested this was going to be easy.

I am not going to bombard anyone with this topic, or give daily updates, or become evangelical about it. I shall pursue it quietly, in my own way. I felt that airing the matter like this would give me a further opportunity to examine my own feelings about it, and maybe bring comfort to others who might share my situation.

If you find that you gain great solace from extended visits to the furniture departments of large retail stores during your lunch-breaks from work (in my case, coincidentally, it was usually John Lewis), that might be a clue. If, like me, you are mystified that the bar staff cannot actually see you waiting to be served, that might be a clue. If, again like me, you find that standing motionless in a corner of the bedroom for hours is surprisingly liberating, that might definitely be a clue. And - finally - if you have already looked for Thomas Stahlberg on Google then you should try to get help as soon as you can.

One more thing. If you find any element of this post tasteless or offensive, go and have a big drink of water, look at yourself in the mirror and breathe deeply a few times before you send me a flamer.

I feel better now - still troubled, but better.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Can't Get No Grindin'

Such a device might be the answer to several questions I haven't even thought of...
Things are a bit overshadowed at present by another outbreak of Real Life. It is, inescapably, a time-of-life thing; further problems with the care of elderly relatives - this time my wife's family rather than my own, but it feels very much like more of the same. I hope and trust that things will be resolved soon in a satisfactory and comfortable manner, but the most obvious immediate difficulty (for us) is that the relative in question lives some distance away, so the Contesse is going to be driving long hours, and negotiating with overstressed social workers in yet another county. Having recently been through a similar episode with my own mother, we could have done with a bit of a break, I guess, but of course it is important that we help as much as we can. Blood, as you know, is famous for having a higher viscosity than other well-known liquids.

My Bavarian project has not yet made made much visible progress, but I am getting a feel for the available 20mm figures, and have a growing collection of samples, including a couple of very generous donations of vintage figures. In a few days I'll publish some size comparison pictures of what I have to work with. Really looks very promising, though - as you would expect with vintage castings - I am going to have to carry out some conversion work to provide sufficient command figures and - not a trivial point - sufficient variety of command figures. As discussed before, I'm happy to have entire battalions of crisply identical fusiliers, but having the self-same officer in every regiment is less satisfying.

Another issue requiring conversion work is the nippy question of plumes on Bavarian infantry. Only the grenadiers had plumes on the helmets (all right, the Jägers had them too, but not until some time later than my chosen 1809 context), so, for a couple of the brands of figures, a period of competent plume removal is approaching. Which (at last) brings me to the point of this post.

I was once the owner of a rather dinky little cordless Dremel, complete with accessory tools, some of which I never identified. I used it sparingly, to say the least. After about the fourth time I used it in anger the battery would no longer recharge, and that model does not allow a replacement part, and of course the guarantee had expired a small number of weeks earlier. Maybe the poor thing died of loneliness. More quality stuff in the landfill.

The Bavarians will require some conversion work, and I am freshly healed from a spell of very sore fingers after needle-filing epaulettes off a bunch of Spanish officers. I think I need to replace my Dremel. I checked out some cheaper brands - Silverline and Tacklife, for example - but the customer reviews were uniformly hostile, and there was a general theme to the messages: pay the extra, get something better.
Not recommended, apparently
So I need to get something small and hobby-ish, but it must be mains-powered, and I don't want to sell the house to fund it, but the cheapest brands seem to give problems - notably with the chuck attachment.

Anyone have experience of such a device, or a recommendation? I don't think that I shall require to re-machine motorcycle parts or anything - this will strictly be a device to assist a flaky dilettante like me with his toy soldiers. All views welcome. Anything which requires hearing protectors or similar is probably not what I'm looking for!

Care must be taken with all DIY projects

To revisit the title of this post, here is the Mighty Mr Morganfield - Muddy Waters to you - live in Germany in 1976.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Hooptedoodle #275 - Which Side Do You Dress?

BBC Radio 4's Today programme is the way my day begins - I wake up when my radio alarm decides it is time for me to start listening. It's good in a number of ways - I get to keep abreast of the news, and it is excellent therapy to be exposed to rational, articulate people who do not curse or communicate in txt-speak. Unfortunately the content is not necessarily going to improve my blood pressure. Never mind. Each new day comes with no guarantees - just be glad you lived to see it. To misquote Forrest Gump, life is like a box of chocolates - it is bad for your teeth and you don't like most of the centres.

This morning I am, of course, mostly impressed by the continuing adventures of Messrs Trump and Kim. I have been keeping a gentle eye on the betting odds against The Tronald completing his term of office - just for academic interest, you understand. Now I am wondering what sort of price I could get on none of us being alive by the end of his term of office. Problem, as someone will point out, is that I would have difficulty collecting my winnings.

To brighten things up a bit, I stayed with the programme this morning, and was confronted by a spokesperson (female) from a fine single-interest group called Let Clothes Be Clothes - they are committed to campaigning against what they term gender stereotyping, and their target area is eliminating the distinction between boys' and girls' clothes. She was celebrating the fact that John Lewis, the very famous and successful UK department store, have removed the signs from their children's clothes - all clothes they sell for children aged up to 14 are now just clothes. Now there's a mighty step forward. I have a 6-foot-tall, 14 year old son who would be prepared to headbutt you in the mouth if you suggested that he may no longer wear boys' clothing, and I do not believe this is entirely due to stereotyping or conditioning to which we have unreasoningly subjected him.

Initially I listened to the item to see if it were a wind-up, or if someone was about to pour a pail of water over the spokesperson's head, but - no - it was for real.

Now, of course I disapprove of stereotyping or prejudicial behaviour of any sort - at heart I even disapprove of my own stereotyping of women with irritating voices on the radio early in the morning, especially women who have the answer to where the human race has been going wrong for some thousands of years.

I don't really care what people wear - if they are comfortable with how they look and with the reaction it produces in others, and if it doesn't upset anyone else or break any laws then that's fine. If a medical examination indicates that an individual is male but he chooses to wear girls' clothes that is fine too, but I would be happier if he bought them in a girls' clothes department rather than having all the rest of us pretend that there is no such thing.

For my liking, this is all too soon after some other worthy on early morning radio was enthusing about the need to encourage young children to reject their default gender if they wanted - there will be a queue of volunteers to help them, counsel them - maybe sign them up? Perhaps individual councils or schools will score points according to how many defenceless children they can trap into making some blood-curdling mistake?

I fear I am not selling myself well here, but I am worried. Coping with individual preferences and exceptional life choices is positive and necessary; making such minority lifestyles into a new mainstream, and/or forcing the rest of us to change to fit in - that's maybe not so positive. If there is a serious market demand for unisex clothing then that's a different thing - let's have shops that cater for it. That's well and good.

Imagine: you have a 12-year-old son and you wish to buy him some new shirts for school. Seems straightforward enough. OK - where will you buy them? If he is forced to buy a gender-free, non-stereotyped "child's" shirt, which way will it button? How will it line up with his school uniform regs? What other issues have not been thought through? How much trouble are we saving up for the future in mental illnesses and young people being unable to adjust to society - not being able to understand what they now are, what they should relate to? Frankly, I do not care how much of a personal triumph the squeaky woman on the radio felt this is - I think it is a mess.

The Mad Padre recently summed this up with his customary breathtaking precision. I shall attempt to give a resume of what he said, though I am by nature more verbose and less precise. The problem with so-called political correctness, he said, is that it is nominally aimed at increasing tolerance, yet in itself it is completely intolerant; it is decreed absolutely that you will show and offer tolerance to such and such a group or personal status, and here are the strict, inarguable terms and conditions, and here is a list of the things we shall do to you if we decide you have been intolerant.

I'm keeping a bucket of water handy.