Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

San Marcial - C&CN in a Wider Fitting

View from behind the Spanish left flank - these are the voluntarios that Freire
was very concerned about - they held the position, despite a couple of scares
Last Saturday Iain visited here, and we played a C&CN game - the published scenario for San Marcial (Aug 1813) stretched for an expanded board, with rather larger forces. Because of the bigger table, we also used the Battlelore amendment to the command rules which I described in a previous post.

Iain has very kindly sent me copies of his excellent photos, so here they are, just to prove the event actually took place, with my thanks for his camera work.

The scenario consists of Clauzel's corps of Soult's French army, crossing the Bidassoa to attack a Spanish force under Freire on a line of three ridges at San Marcial. True to the original battle, the French fought vigorously and determinedly, but the Spaniards held out, the Victory Points margin eventually being 10-3, which includes 3 extra points for Freire for hanging on to the three hills and - in any case - rather flatters the defenders.

The action is primarily one for infantry - I included a cavalry presence in both armies simply because - well, you have to really, don't you? The French had a 3:2 superiority in artillery, but had little opportunity to bring it forward into action; the Spaniards, on the other hand, had their guns on the flanks, which caused a lot of damage to the attackers. The Spaniards fight well enough if they stand their ground, but the retreat rules for the Spanish army in C&CN are harsh - especially the voluntarios units, which are classed as militia - so getting them to stand their ground is the heart of the matter.

General view from the French left

Those voluntarios, on the Spanish left ridge

Some of Reille's Italians attempting to flush the Legion Extremena out of a wood

Lots of Higginses - Lamartiniere's French division, on the right

More Higginses - the Dragoni Napoleone

French advance under way, all along the line - keeping the momentum
without much artillery support was a problem  throughout the day

Villatte's Confederation Germans, on the French left, ford the Bidassoa, but
are already suffering from the Spanish cannon


Lamartiniere, at the San Marcial village, sets about those stubborn voluntarios


Spanish line infantry wait calmly for their moment

Spanish hussars (Extremadura) mostly stood watching - converted Hinton Hunts

The Italians now have the wood, but are starting to wonder if this is such a great idea

At this point Villatte's Germans on the French left are struggling to progress, the
Italians in the centre are running out of steam and Lamartiniere's Frenchmen at
the far end are fighting hard but getting bogged down


The voluntarios have yellow markers to denote their militia status, but the
beggars wouldn't run...

French cavalry supporting the Italians, but there were no broken troops to harry - it was
not a good day for cavalry

The Germans still struggling to get a hold on the other side of the river - a lot
of those bloody red markers in evidence

Final view - Freire's men still on their ridge, with plenty of fresh units if needed


Monday, 21 July 2014

Hooptedoodle #143 - Foy’s Thirteenth Law: The Optimal Number of Spares

This was nominated as an addition to Foy’s Law’s by Iain, which probably suggests that he was as bemused by my thoughts on the subject as by the rest of the Laws in the series. Not discouraged, I have decided to publish it, as another small effort to share my painfully-gained wisdom with the world. It is the least I can do, I feel.

Foy’s Thirteenth Law states: It is a good idea to have spares available for useful items, but only a few; over a certain number, the overhead of management and organization of the spares outweighs the benefit of having them, and the spares themselves will tend to disappear until the optimal number is achieved.

Exotica

This originally came to my notice in the rather specialized field of guitar picks (or plectra, as we called them in the Roman army). I have managed to maintain a shadowy alternative life as a musician and arranger, and always carry at least one pick in my pocket (to be precise, I carry it/them in my left hand trouser pocket, with my penknife, as opposed to my right pocket, where I carry my loose change – these things are important, I think). Picks are not very impressive items, and are easily mislaid, but arriving at a gig without one is not recommended, so a little care is worth the trouble. Also these things are increasingly expensive – I have acquired a taste for Claude Dugain’s little sculpted masterpieces, which come in at around £8 or more a hit; since the softer ones (ebony, coconut shell) wear out fairly quickly, this is a bit of a consideration, particularly if you are unfortunate enough to have to use the UK distributor.

This Optimal Number is not known at the outset, but you become aware of it as the number shrinks, mysteriously, from what you think it might be to what it really is. I have sometimes tried to analyse this – I haven’t got very far, but it goes like this:
  1. I need to have at least one good pick with me at all times – I might be forced to call at a music store, I might get a sudden phone call from the Howard Alden band, telling me that Howard has been taken ill – anything is possible. 
  2. If I have one good pick with me, I will be careful with it. I am unlikely to leave it in the music shop, or in the wrong trousers, or on the bookshelf, or on the music stand, or just drop it somewhere without noticing. This is because I will regularly (nervously) check my left pocket to make sure everything is in order. Penknife? – yep. Pick? – yep – I can hear it clink against the penknife.
  3. But one pick is a bit risky – a spare one will cover me for accidental loss or breakage. So two is a better number than one, but being forced to call on the spare would put me back to one, which is not ideal, so maybe three would be even better.
  4. Hmmm.
  5. If I were going on a week’s tour (unlikely these days, but one lives in Hope…), I might feel justified in putting, say, six or seven picks in my pocket. Now you’re talking. Idiot proofing.
  6. Not really. When I am pick-rich in this way, maybe I get careless, maybe my routine pocket-check is unable to detect a difference between (say) six and (say) five without a special, extra count. Maybe something more sinister happens.
  7. Whatever it is, I will find that my seven picks very quickly become three, at which point I get worried enough to pay attention and check more carefully, and stop the rot. 

What is this? One day a future generation of archeologists will find a random layer of Dugain picks, and will assume that they are the claws of some unknown creature, or the jewels of a religious leader. Where do the things go? How do they know to do this?

Three is the optimal number for my pick load. No picks at all is obviously useless, one is a bit risky, two is a bit better, three is good, anything more than three will tend to reduce itself back to three again quite quickly. Three.

I quietly filed that away as a fact which is invaluable only to me, but in the last year or two the Contesse has started using reading glasses. She tended to mislay these fairly frequently so – since she is lucky enough to require a prescription you can buy off the shelf easily and cheaply, she began to buy spare pairs of specs. One in the car, one in the handbag, one on the bookshelf, one on the coffee table, one on the bookshelf, one in the kitchen, one on the bedside cabinet, one on the bookshelf…

Just a minute – where are they all? Foy’s Thirteenth strikes again. As I move around the house, I see an apparently endless stream of reading glasses, and yet the Contesse will be looking for a pair at that same moment. The Contesse, I hasten to add, is not unusually careless or disorganized – I feel that she has merely, unknowingly, exceeded Foy’s Optimal Number of Spares.

A statistician or a moron – either of these – might expect that an increasing number of spares would mean that they would be spread more widely through the house/car/handbag, that a random walk around the place would turn up more frequent examples, which implies some sort of even distribution, or simply that the more likely places would tend to have more spares in them.

Further study is needed, but I don’t think it works like this. We don’t usually lose something because we can’t remember which of a finite number of sensible places we have left it in (which is already sounding a bit dodgy), it is because we have put it down somewhere daft while we were distracted by something else. Thus a greater number of spares simply means that they will occupy more daft places – places a sensible search would not look for them on a first pass.

Some kind soul will suggest that the reading glasses should be attached to neck-cords. This seems a reasonable idea, but has not proved to be a well-received suggestion – in fact I have to say that my own reading glasses have such a cord, and in my case it simply means that I am often searching for a lost pair of reading glasses with cord attached, so it is not necessarily the answer. We are still unsure of the Optimal Number of spare reading glasses, but it seems pretty certain that the number of spare pairs we have (if we could find them all to count them) is greater than this.


Work continues.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Commands & Colors – the “Battlelore” Tweaks

Battlelore; the big guy on the left suggests this is not the Wars of the Roses
There should be some kind of regulation against old fools like me quoting things they do not understand – I had never heard of Battlelore until a couple of weeks ago, but I am assured that is huge and well-established. As everyone on the planet apart from me is probably well aware, it is a board-cum-miniatures game designed by Richard Borg and launched in 2006, which uses his Commands & Colors game system and is set in a world(?) of fantasy and mythical pseudo-history, and very good it looks, though it is not really my cup of tea.

Why is that, then? Why do I have this unreasonable prejudice against fantasy and sci-fi wargaming – is it simply that I am old and lacking imagination?

Well it might be, to be truthful, though in fact I am not really prejudiced against these categories of gaming. In principle, the idea of fighting games which do away with the limits imposed by recorded history and its technologies (and life forms) is exciting, and I can well understand why they have such an appeal. My doubts about them – the reasons they do not rock my boat – are entirely personal, and probably do not stand up to very much examination, but here they are, for appropriate mockery:

(1) A lot of this is based on cult movies or books – which is not in itself a criticism (after all, a lot of my wargaming is based on cult books written by Charles Oman and Donald Featherstone, amongst others), but many of the ideas and themes become repetitive and derivative. For example, someone who goes to the trouble of creating a fantasy world which is very obviously a crude and inferior rip-off of the works of Prof Tolkien or similar is actually displaying rather a lack of imagination, as I see it, though he may well be driven by a very shrewd commercial awareness. Not a real problem, and if the games are enjoyed by a great many fans then good for them.

(2) My suspicion that the imagination deployed is less than free-flowing is confirmed by the copious documentation for the games and their expansions; giant spiders, now there’s a really unusual idea (yawn), but there are very strict published tables of what these spiders are allowed to do, so play nicely, please. Whoever’s imagination this is, it had better not be yours, and don’t you forget it. Far from being a free-form, open-architecture playground for the creative soul, fantasy gaming is complex, fiddly and beset by heavy documentation which makes 1970s Ancients national championship games look very casual indeed.

(3) Much of it is heavily fashion-dependant, and bolstered by branding and commercial copyright. All those spotty people who hang around GW shops (how did you guess I would get to them eventually?) will mostly move on to other fads, which means that wargaming will become The Thing We All Did Last Year, which means that historical miniatures gaming, for example, might not be high on the list of potential Next Big Things for these guys. 

My cup of tea

Right, that should irritate a few people, for a start.

Iain has been on holiday in Scotland with his daughter, and yesterday he took the time to drive here from Aberfoyle, to say hello and have a quick wargame, which I appreciate very much. Sadly the day was wet and foggy, so the Front of Beyond was not at its most attractive, but the wargame took place. Iain took pictures, so I hope that some of those will appear here in due course.

Laying on a game for an experienced wargaming visitor requires a bit of unaccustomed thought, I discovered. Most of the games I play these days are solo, and the social games I play with friends are usually because I bully them into taking part, so there is not a lot of pressure to make the game balanced or anything. Normally, here, no-one gives a toss who wins, so my approach to scenarios is relaxed to the point of being horizontal. I’m not suggesting for a moment that Iain is likely to be at all precious about the occasion, but I would be very sorry to waste his time – especially considering the travel involved – and he has no previous experience of Commands & Colors, so it would be doubly embarrassing to turn him off completely.

For the first time I can remember, I spent a while looking through the published scenarios – an area on which have always thought that regular CCN players are excessively fixated – to find something suitable. I was also using my widened table, so I came up with a game which was a stretched (17 hexes x 9) adaptation of GMT’s San Marcial scenario from the Spanish Expansion set. To cope with the larger armies and the bigger field, I also adopted a Battlelore tweak for the use of Command Cards (which seemed a good idea, but added to the risk of screwing up the game through unfamiliarity). I’ll set out this tweak, which was the main reason for this post, below, along with some further ruminations on CCN.

The game went well enough. I gave Iain command of the attacking French army, on the grounds that the Spanish have only one strategy – stay put on the hills, hold your fire and roll good dice when the French arrive. In the real battle of San Marcial, Soult failed to dislodge the Spaniards and gave up. Iain’s experience was similar, but my initial reasoning was that at least he would have something to do if he was attacking. No doubt we’ll discuss it further when he gets home from his holiday; he found CCN interesting, not least because it has a character of its own, and he picked it up very quickly despite my stammering explanations, but it will certainly not replace Black Powder as his game of choice.

There will be more about the actual game when the photos become available. Here is the Battlelore tweak for the big game, as promised. One of the characteristics of Commands & Colors style games is that the Command Cards restrict each turn to a small number of units, and for a big army on a big field that can be too piecemeal an approach.

The Battlelore tweak allows you to use more than one card per turn and, unlike the full Memoir 44 Overlord or Epic-sized CCA games, it allows you to work with a standard pack of Command Cards, with a very small amount of amendment (which is especially attractive if, like mine, your brain is full and easily confused).


Battlelore Epic rules applied to C&C Napoleonics

This works with an enlarged C&CN map (e.g. Battlelore Epic standard is 17 x 13) and with a single standard Command Card deck.

Rules:

The Command Cards are of two types: Section cards (which refer to the left, centre and right of the battlefield, and carry an icon showing arrows) and Tactic cards (which do not).

An extra “Epic” card draw deck is created with three Command Cards drawn from the Command deck, visible (and available, in their turn) to both players. If, at any time, when it is first created or when it is replenished to bring it up to 3 cards, the Epic deck does not show at least one Section card, discard all 3 cards and take 3 new ones until it does.

During the Command phase of his turn, a player may either:

Play a single Section card, which may be from his own hand or may be from the Epic deck, or

Play two Section cards, one of which must be from his own hand and one must be from the Epic deck, or

Play a single Tactic card, which may be from his own hand or the Epic deck

At the end of his turn, when the cards used are replaced, the player’s own hand must be brought back to strength, and the Epic deck must (if necessary) be made back up 3 cards, at least one of which must be a Section card.

When playing two Section cards, the orders on both cards are carried out.

When a Section or Tactic card played activates a number of units equal to “Command”, this is the number of cards in the player’s hand, not counting the Epic deck.

Some cards have a slightly modified interpretation:

“Scouting” Section cards offer a chance to draw two cards and discard one of them; this does not apply if the card came from the Epic deck.

“Elan” Tactic card: ordered units battle at +2 dice for the entire turn, and the Command deck and discards are combined and shuffled – the Epic deck should be discarded and replaced at this point.

“First Strike” Tactic card: if this card is drawn to the Epic deck, discard it and draw another card.


Partly as a result of the brief discussion of CCN with Iain which was possible after the game, and various ideas I have been nursing for a while, I may have some further tweaks in mind.

First off, I am now in favour of simply discarding the “Short Supply” Tactic card whenever it appears, and drawing again. I find this card does not sit well with the overall game.


Next, I am not really very comfortable that the role of a Leader in the game is simply to prevent his troops from running away and avoid being a casualty himself. One of the things that I found hardest to come to terms with in CCN is the lack of army structure – any general can attach himself to any unit. That’s OK – it’s the game rules, but it is counter-intuitive based on all my past gaming. To give a Leader a rather more proactive job in CCN, I like the idea of allowing his troops to gain an extra die in combat if he is attached to them, in return for which the Leader casualty test will require only a crossed-sabres result on a single die for a hit. The trade-off is that the Leader adds to the fighting ability of his men if he puts his own neck on the line, but he has a higher chance of being hurt.

I’m not going to do anything drastic about this until I have seen what is coming in the mooted Marshals & Generals expansion for CCN – it looks as though the role of the Leader may be about to be jazzed up a bit, so I look forward to that. It is, in any case, possible to put a Leadership rule tweak in any particular scenario, so I could try out a few ideas in solo games.

Friday, 18 July 2014

The Big Table Takes a Bow

I'm expecting a visitor tomorrow, so I've set up the newly-extended version of my wargames table for a battle. This will be an expanded (17 x 9 hexes) Commands & Colors: Napoleonics session, which is basically a stretched version of the official scenario for San Marcial (August 1813) from Expansion 1 of the GMT game, and I'll use the Battlelore tweak for the Command Cards to facilitate the bigger battle. [If you are at all interested in this rules tweak, let me know and I'll explain it in a further post.]

The set-up - Spaniards on the left of the picture, Gen Freire with the yellow border

View from behind the French right flank - the Spanish hill at this end is held
by a brigade of voluntarios,  who are classed as militia and thus are subject to triple
retreats. There may be trouble ahead
The pictures show the set-up, ready for tomorrow. The French (mostly Germans and Italians, really) under General Bertrand Clauzel will cross the Bidassoa, which is fordable along its length, and try to knock General Freire's Spanish army off a line of 3 hills. 10 Victory Points for the win, and there is a special rule that the side occupying the greater number of hexes of each of the hills at the end of their turn will gain a temporary VP for each hill held. I'm not using the Guerrilla rule for this game, mostly because I think it's rather a silly rule…

The historical Battle of San Marcial ended with the French abandoning the attack, and thus losing on points. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Scenery – Lilliput Lane!

It feels as though I have always been aware of the Lilliput Lane range of miniature buildings – I regard them as collectibles for oldies with an excess of pocket money and shelf space. Not very interesting, not my kind of thing, overpriced and far too cute for my taste, but certainly very nice if that’s what you like.

Hinton Hunt 20mm ECW soldiers with Lilliput Lane Scottish buildings - not bad?
A few years ago I made a conscious (and not easy) decision to use underscale buildings on my wargame table – my figures are sort of 1/72-ish, which translates to about 20mm, but I use 15mm scale buildings as a matter of policy. They look fine, they take up less space on the battlefield (and are therefore a bit less of an offence against the age-old mismatch of vertical and ground scales in the games) and they are, of course, cheaper than their bigger cousins.

My Peninsular War buildings are of various makes and came from various places – I like resin buildings, and I enjoy painting them myself. I am aware that I have buildings from Eureka, Hovels, JR Miniatures, Battlezone and others I can’t remember. Sometimes the scale slips downwards a bit – some of my buildings, judging by the ease with which the men could pass through the doors, are a bit tight even for 15mm, but it’s amazing how the convenience numbs your sensitivity to this inaccuracy. It is true that an HO or 25mm church would look more natural with the miniature soldiers, but this is more than outweighed by the fact that it would be the size of a fair-sized village on the battlefield.

My standard issue, home-painted 15mm Hovels
When I started on the ECW, I bought in a pile of Hovels Medieval, Northern European and “English Rural” series buildings, and some rather more Germanic things from JR, and I’ve been working my way through the painting of these as time permits. When my interest in this period suddenly performed a lateral arabesque in the direction of Montrose and his chums, I had a need for some Scottish looking buildings, and was surprised when a search on eBay for “Scottish” and “buildings” threw up some examples of Lilliput Lane products. Of course, most of them were unsuitable, and prices were generally very unsuitable indeed, but there were a few very interesting examples on offer.

I am not a convert, I will not blossom into a collector, but there are a number of very useful pieces out there. There are a few problems, apart from price – these items are all sorts of different sizes and scales, and very few sellers bother to put dimensions in the listings; the models themselves are collectible without any attempt to have a constant scale - having said which, Lilliput have recently produced their “Full Steam Ahead” series, which are specifically targeted at (very wealthy) N-Gauge model railway enthusiasts.

The trick is to ignore the new stuff and the listings aimed at serious collectors – there are some real bargains among the clearances of someone’s late grannie’s bits and pieces, especially if, like me, you could not care less about the missing box and deed (certificate of authenticity), and are happy to get out the paints to touch up chips and scratches. In fact, I have been known to drybrush some erstwhile collectible with Khaki Mist #4 to tone down the colours a bit – enough to send genuine LL collectors screaming for therapy.

I am also happy to snip off the happy wedding couple from a rural church scene (or lose them inside a tree), so I am a real heretic in the LL world. It is also necessary, of course, to check on sizes. I have had a couple of minor failures, but they can always be stood on the top of a distant hill, or put back on eBay – how can I lose at these prices?

On the face of it, this would make a decent wargames piece - bad news is
this is a limited edition, so I'd have to sell my own house to buy it. Nah - not
suitable, far too collectible for me...
A complete battlefield covered with LL buildings would be an abhorrence by any standards – the more complicated set-pieces cover too much ground anyway, and do not lend themselves to having soldiers placed as a garrison – but I am now keeping a gentle eye open for suitable bargains on eBay – mixed in with the Hovels and similar they can look impressive, and they give extra interest.

I am currently chasing a nice little windmill which looks just about right to stand on the next hill from my Hovels mill, and there are a number of slightly chipped manor houses which would go well as the centrepiece of a village or a siege scenario. I’m a bit embarrassed about it, to tell the truth, but it’s all good fun.



Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Hooptedoodle #142 - Not Much Here, Either...

Topic 1: Curtains for All of Us – an Everyday Tale of Mystery

Who lowered the floor, then?
When I first moved to my present home I was still smarting from the financial implications of divorce – I was not exactly starving, but I had to be more careful than I had been used to. In the attic of the oldest part of this house there are two bedrooms which were a loft conversion, probably carried out in about 1975 – years before my time.

These two rooms are connected by a glazed double door, and there is a curtain pole above the door to protect the modesty of the people who sleep there. I duly went to Argos and bought a cheap pair of curtains. They were blue, and – because of the amount of sunlight which comes in through the big roof windows up there in the attic – they very quickly faded to become strange, striped, blue-and-light-grey objects. Not great.

Sometime later, after the Contesse had joined me here, we smartened things up by replacing the old, piebald blue curtains (which are still around, in my dust-sheet box in the garage) with some new, cream ones. These were also from Argos, but how can you go wrong with a cheap pair of curtains?

A quick word here about Argos – they are a fine institution, and I have bought a good number of decent objects from Argos over the years. However – and this is nothing to do with snobbery or anything – there is a specific point about shopping there.

Whereas, if I buy something from Marks & Spencer, or Next, or John Lewis, or a number of other such stores, there is always a vague implication that the minimum quality you can get will always be acceptable, this is not true of Argos, in the same way that it was not true of Woolworths when they were going strong. It is possible to buy an item from Argos which is so cheap that you are left wishing you had spent rather more on it. This particular brand of curtains is of this sort.

The first issue was length. Naturally the cream curtains were not the exact length to suit the double doors, so the Contesse (a very fine wielder of needle and thread, in addition to her other talents) measured one of the curtains, worked out how much to shorten it, and neatly cut and hemmed this amount from the bottom of each.

Bong.

Bong

The reasonable assumption that the paired curtains were the same length to start with proved incorrect. After the hemming and pressing was complete, one of the curtains required a few inches more to be removed to match them up. This was duly carried out, and since then they have done excellent service through the years, gently fading to a lighter shade of cream.

We have recently had the old roof windows replaced, and during the cleaning-up after the builders had gone the curtains were washed and pressed. They are now paler still – a pleasant off-white shade, but interestingly they are different lengths again. One has shrunk to be a few inches shorter than the other. No great problem – maybe it is time to invest in some new curtains again – but we wondered idly whether the original mismatched lengths would have shrunk to be the same if we had left them. It seems unlikely, but it would have been a hell of a piece of planning on the part of the manufacturer. We agree that our next curtains will be

(1) Rather better quality, if possible

(2) Washed and pressed before being cut to length

Something tasteful, understated... 

Topic 2: Places which Do Not Exist

This is a real hotchpotch. I’ve always been fascinated by place names, and also had a very soft spot for the figure of speech (is it a zeugma?) which is exemplified by “he set off, in high spirits and a tweed suit”. Many years ago, an equally daft work colleague (Rattigan) and I used to entertain ourselves (and irritate our workmates) by inventing place names. This started out when, one day, a female colleague said that she had not yet met a man she would care to marry, but “she lived in hope”.

Rattigan felt that it would be splendid if someone did in fact live in, say, a village named Hope, and this led to a fantasy that someone might claim to live in Hope, which alas was only a short distance from another village called Despair. I still shudder to think what the unfortunate folk we worked with made of our guffaws, but this whole topic gained quite a momentum.

Rattigan invented another village named Abject Poverty, inhabited by the less fortunate, and so it went on. I can only claim, in our defence, that the work of our department was pretty tedious otherwise. Names of real places are a wonderful store of history, or common culture, or recollections of communal bad breaks. At the very least, some old names give an insight into how people thought, or how their language sounded, in times which are now largely forgotten.

The subject is worth a long treatise of its own, and I have written something in past blog posts here about the wealth of fine and whimsical names in Northumberland and Durham, and about the development of convincing-but-fictitious ECW-vintage North of England names which stopped short of the music-hall Clagthwaite. I end this with a tale which is merely silly, but it gets us close to the fertile topic of place names which have become rude as the language has changed – a source of endless delight to children from 4 to 104.

Some years ago, our summer holiday involved a drive from Scotland to the ferry terminal at Portsmouth, en route for Brittany. We stopped overnight with friends in Leicestershire to break the journey, and some time the following morning we found ourselves in Northampton, travelling – to the joy of my son – along a highway called Pants Lane. Almost worth the entire cost of the holiday, I’m sure you will agree.

Since then I’ve tried several times to check this out. If you look at maps of Northampton, you will not find Pants Lane. How can this be? – we read it on the street signs in 2008. Is it possible that a bashful or irate community (or their elected leaders) have suppressed the traditional name of the street, rather than celebrating its value as a source of local pride?

What is the mystery of Pants Lane? Is it too awful to tell?

In fact, the answer is disappointingly mundane, though in its way it is a triumph of the human spirit. The road is actually called Bants Lane, but a long and noble tradition ensures that children have always systematically defaced the street signs to produce the preferred version, and the council has yet to find a way to stop them doing it. Similarly, the children of the village of East Linton, near where I live, insist on altering the signs to read Fast Linto; though no-one knows what it means, that is the corrected form. Tradition is a fine thing.

Thought for today. The council can change Chamberlain Street into Mandela Way any time they want, without a great deal of fuss and maybe without even asking anyone if it’s OK. What about the democracy thing? – if the kids of a town alter the street name for long enough, could it ever become, officially, by usage, Pants Lane?

The - er - Diggers
There is an odd relationship between what places are known as, and what their official names are. This finds its most common form in the names of public houses. In Edinburgh there is a famous pub, well known to Hearts football fans, called the Athletic Arms, but it is always referred to as “The Diggers”, and there is an old cemetery across the street from it. There can be no-one left alive who remembers any direct connection between the pub and the men who dug the graves, but it’s part of the lore of the city.


The Tyne Bridge at East Linton
In the aforementioned village of East Linton there is a handsome, but very narrow, bridge over the River Tyne (not the same one as goes through Newcastle), and it is not so very long ago that the main road from Edinburgh to London passed over this very bridge. That part of the village is known, not surprisingly, as Bridgend, and for many years the Bridgend Inn stood close to the bridge. The inn is still there, though now it is the Linton Hotel. What the locals call the pub, though, is the Red Lion, which is the name it bore for a while after it was the Bridgend Inn and before it got its present name. Weird stuff this – do people hang on to old names out of tradition, or out of natural cussedness, or just to confuse visitors?