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

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Hooptedoodle #227 - Bufo Bufo

The wildlife in the garden and the adjacent wood is always welcome, but things are best advised to stay in the right places. More comfortable all round.

Yesterday's irregularity was this common toad, who got into the bird bath - presumably he dropped in from the wall. He seemed quite happy, but couldn't get out again, because of the slippery glaze.

So the Contesse rescued him. What to do next with him was less obvious. My personal opinion, for what it's worth, is that you should not form any kind of attachment to things you rescue. Nature is not so benign. If we put Toadie into the woods, he would most likely be grabbed by an owl as soon as we looked away. We don't have a pond handy, so we put him on the toad-coloured bark chips under the fruit trees, and he moved off inside the wire-mesh cages which (officially) prevent the deer from nibbling the trees back to ground level. This offered some illusion of protection, so we left him to it, and trusted that he would have a long and happy life.

Meanwhile, I am relieved to say that the pheasant breeding/fighting season is now over, and Algernon and his idiot wives have left our garden and moved elsewhere. Pleased to see them go - they are very noisy, from about 4:30am to about an hour after dusk, they make a mess (apart from anything else, they left quite a few stray eggs on the paths and the lawns - never have pheasants for parents if you can avoid it) and they forced us to stop filling the bird feeders (since they would stand underneath them all day, shouting for smaller and more nimble birds to drop some titbits for them).

I'm thinking of putting a sign up - VISITORS WELCOME, BUT PLEASE STAY IN THE RIGHT PLACES. That should sort a few things out.

Friday, 22 July 2016

French Siege Train - Ramrod Enhancement

Ramrod salesmen really don't want you to know about this neat trick.
Kennington gunners in 1813 uniforms, all ready for sieges in 1810 - no wonder they are smiling.
I do have some OOP NapoleoN gunners available, but, since I need big numbers, and since the Siege Train is probably going to spend the vast majority of its time in its box, I am intending to man my French siege equipment with cheap and cheerful (and underrated, in my opinion) SHQ/Kennington crews.

I've still got one small shipment to come, but most of the figures are here, and I've cleaned them up and put them on the regulation bottletops, ready for painting. I also took the opportunity to carry out some modest conversion work, equipping half a dozen of the gunners with ramrods of a suitable size for the 24pdr behemoths.

My photo includes an unadjusted specimen, front centre, for comparison. A razor saw, a pack of needle files, a pin vice and some (accelerated!) superglue and I am a happy chappie - no doubt about it!

Separate Topic

Since today is the 204th anniversary of the Battle of Salamanca (that's Los Arapiles to you European fellows), I am feeling rash enough to do something naughty...

I'm not supposed to show anyone these, but here's a "leak" of some photos of the masters of some new Portuguese Cacadores I have commissioned (in 1/72 white metal) from Hagen Miniatures. In due course they will appear for sale on Hagen's website, but I thought I'd sneak in a quick appetiser. These are to be marketed under the Foy Figures name, to join the Portuguese Line infantry and 1809 Spanish line cavalry which are already on sale from Hagen. The website is here.

Special message to Armand (Tango01) - please do me a favour, and don't link this to TMP...

Thursday, 21 July 2016

French Siege Train - Heavy Metal

I've painted the guns for the siege train now. They are varnished, based and stored away in a new box (titled "French Siege Train" - how's that for organisation?) to wait for a small matter of 52 gunners plus (maybe) one or two senior officers.

This may be the least colourful photo of the year so far. I maintain a house tradition of 2 model guns per battery - the reasons for this are fading into obscurity, but as I recall they included:

* it is possible to field a half-battery (if you need one)

* 2 model guns have a definite front, and there is less scope for crafty spinning on the spot 

* I prefer the look of the thing (important)

* somebody (Charles Grant Sr?) recommended 2-gun batteries years ago, and I duly obeyed (even more important)

You can see here 3 batteries of Vallière-system 24pdrs (heaviest guns were the last to be converted to the Gribeauval system, since advantages of weight saving and standardised spares were less relevant - French siege train in the Peninsula had some very old guns) - models are Minifigs; 2 batteries of howitzers (different types) one lot are by Finescale Factory and the other are Hinchliffe 20mm; 2 batteries of Gribeauval 10" mortars (recently repatriated from the British and repainted - see "oops" reference in previous post) - these are also Hinch 20mm.

On the general topic of drab appearance, I was asked recently why I had adopted brown bases for siege equipment and personnel. I ignored any faint suggestion that it was not such a great idea, and explained that, since siege guns and sappers and similar people would spend most of their working time in specially-dug earthworks or sitting on (muddy) timber platforms, a nice shade of mud was felt to be appropriate for my Old School bases. At times, I confess, I have had doubts about it, but it would be a major project to change it now, so brown bases it is. Certainly, a siege battery sited on a beautiful croquet lawn, like my field artillery, would look spectacularly daft, so I'll cheerfully stick with this. However, olive green guns on a brown base are a bit dowdy, so I'll have to make sure the artillerymen get plenty of red plumes and so on, to brighten things up.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

French Siege Train - Mortar Swap!

There is a law of Nature which I've been affected by on numerous occasions in the past, though I've never fully understood it and I've never seen it written down anywhere. Perhaps it is Foy's missing Fourteenth Law.

It works like this: you wish to (say) replace a tap-washer, so you go to the hardware store and purchase a pack of the things, and you dig out the bag of tools and find that the spanner you need has been misplaced, so you go to the garage to check the bicycle tools, and while you are in there you realise that there is a new wasps' nest under the roof, so you go to find the wasp spray and you spot that a mouse has chewed through a pack of lawn seed, which is likely to attract more of its friends, so you go to find a plastic detergent jar to put the lawn seed in, and so on and so on, and you collect a growing list of upstream tasks which eventually require you to move the house 4 feet to the left before you can do anything at all. As likely as not, the tap will still be dripping tomorrow.

To my surprise, my work on the French siege train suddenly involved some work on the Allied siege train yesterday. I have recently acquired some very nice Hinchliffe 20mm French 10" mortars, and when I assembled one I realised that it looked strangely familiar - in fact my British mortar batteries are already equipped with them. Oops. This, of course, will never do, so I decided that I would sort this out before anything else happened.

Re-equipped RA mortar batteries. Yes, you're right - the gunners are Warrior
figures, over-acting as usual.
As luck would have it, that splendid fellow Old John recently sent me some S-Range Coehorn Mortars, which would be just the thing to re-equip my Royal Artillery boys. I painted up the Coehorns, re-based the crews (taking the opportunity to remove those embarrassingly redundant chaps with ramrods - 3 figures is plenty for a mortar team anyway...) and put the French mortars carefully aside for repainting and reissue in the near future. So here are the British mortar batteries - units 345 and 346 in The Catalogue, with the regulation siege equipment brown bases - ready to go back in the box.

Meanwhile the guns for the French siege train are complete and just about ready for painting, so I hope to make a start on that tonight. If I find my olive green paint has solidified then there will be a short delay while I move the house a few feet to the left.

Separate Topic

Yesterday we visited The Hirsel, near Coldstream, the ancestral seat of the Douglas-Home family, and had a very pleasant walk in the grounds. In the course of our walk, we passed the Cow Arch (pictured), which intrigues me because there was a similar one at the old (ruined) mansion house here at the estate where our farm is. As I understand it, these things were to allow the cows to cross the driveway without spattering it with unmentionables. This was practical, I guess, especially in the days when people wore more ornate finery than we do now, but - strangely - the riding horses and coach horses of the gentry were free to spatter everything in sight with impunity. This was somehow acceptable - in fact it continues to be acceptable to this day, as anyone visiting my house (on a farm with an active riding stables) will testify.

Two generations of the Foy dynasty pose beneath the ancestral Cow Arch of
the Douglas-Homes. Not a cow in sight, by the way.
If you are not familiar with the idea of something being spattered with impunity, it is not especially pleasant, particularly under the wheel-arches of your car on a hot day. Enough - I hope I have not put you off your pain au chocolat this morning.

Friday, 15 July 2016

The Activator Cometh - more tales of superglue

I have been working away at the guns for my French Peninsular War siege train, so the time was right to try out my new Glue Activator, as pictured above. I'm always a little nervous trying anything new, since I know that if it doesn't work it will almost certainly be because of my own incompetence. It's good to be kept humble, of course, but not all the time...

The idea (bear with me here) is that superglue requires to be in a thin film to cure. A spot will stick together two glass microscope slides just about instantly, but any thicker mass of the stuff takes time to harden. This is the reason why I have spent so many frustrating hours attempting to hold head grafts or arm grafts still enough, for long enough, to achieve neat joins.

Well, I read about the various activator products, and decided to invest in a couple of bottles of the one illustrated at the top. I didn't fancy the spray, which on the face of it seems wasteful - my intention was to use it straight from the bottle - I'll come back to this in a moment.

Since it was ready to go, I thought I'd give the spray a try. Not good. Possibly the spray device on my first bottle was defective, but I couldn't direct the spray accurately enough - in fact, the activator fluid also came out below the spray button, and got onto my hand. I tired of that fairly quickly, so I unscrewed the top, and used a wooden cocktail stick to apply the fluid directly to the glued joints.

The fluid smells quite volatile, and certainly it flows easily and rapidly. Because it has very low viscosity, I couldn't get a decent sized drop to form on the pointed tip of the cocktail stick, but I could get a visible droplet on the square butt end of the stick. Excellent - present the droplet to the assembled, glued joint, the activator flows right inside the joint and the glue solidifies - instantly - as you look at it.


Trunnion plate on a 25mm scale siege gun (dead centre of photo) is a little less
than ¼ inch long, which by my standards is microscopic. No problem; put a blob
of superglue on the trunnion, place the fixing plate in position, adjust position
with penknife point, apply droplet of activator. Bingo. Why haven't I tried this
stuff before?
That's more like it. Before I graduate to sticking the separate arms onto my new Portuguese infantry, I'll have to practise a bit, but I fancy that if I support the body on a blob of Blutack, present the arm (accurately) to the shoulder with my right hand and touch a drop of activator to the job with my left, I should get good results without constantly dropping everything, without swearing and without needing to grow a third hand. I am reassured. It is not everyday that a product does what you had actually hoped it would do.

I recommend this stuff - for the kind of work I'm doing, though, the spray device is useless, so borrow the cocktail sticks.  

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Death by MDF Bases - a stocktake

Sorting out the MDF bases - first find them all, then sort them, then count...
I’ve become very used to my laser-cut MDF bases now. There was a time when I would happily cut up my own bases with the trusty Stanley knife and a steel ruler, and I still do this (obviously) for any odd sizes that I need, but – however hard I try – the home-cut ones look scruffy next to the bought-in laser jobs.

As part of this move towards decent bases over recent years, I made a valiant attempt to standardise on my base sizes, to limit the confusion and make stock control easier. I’ve mentioned my base sizes before – it probably wasn’t interesting then, either, so I’ll assume I’m safe to mention them again!

When I think about it, my Napoleonic frontages come from old WRG rules. I can’t remember which rules, or which edition, but 15mm per figure for close-order infantry, 25mm for heavy cavalry and 30mm for light cavalry became rooted in tradition here, and – for obvious reasons – once the base size has been in force for a while, as long as it works OK, it’s not a great idea to change your mind about it.

So I have made a conscious effort to go for a small number of standard base sizes. I won’t go on at great length about this, but there is always a subtle pressure towards increasing the number of sizes – just one more new standard…

I use large numbers of the following (all measured in mm wide x mm deep):

50 x 45           line infantry (2 rows of 3 men) and heavy cavalry (2 figs wide)

60 x 45           light cavalry (2 wide)

25 x 45           single heavy cavalry figures

30 x 45           single light cavalry figures, also generals & staff

and then there’s

80 x 25           infantry skirmishers (open-order line of 3)

80 x 20           alternative skirmisher bases – used in mixed order units

60 x 80           field gun + crew (2 guns to a battery)

and then there are standard sizes for different kinds of unit sabots, and bases for artillery limbers, caissons, wagons, mule trains – and this is where the number of variants keeps increasing. When I started collecting siege guns and equipment, some new, more compact sizes appeared, to keep the footprint down, and because the siege pieces have smaller crews. I’m currently preparing some guns for the French Peninsular War siege train – there will be 3 batteries of 24 pdrs, 2 of howitzers and 2 (maybe 3) of mortars – I am reminded that for the big siege guns I use a base of 45 x 90, and for the mortars (apparently) I have adopted 45 x 65, which is an odd size but seems to be a bit more roomy than the existing 60 x 45. I conducted a proper stocktaking exercise (the first part of which was identifying the 4 separate boxes which contained random mixtures of fresh bases). I’m proud to say that I have now an official note of how many of each size I have and need, so an order will be going out today. I have promised myself that I am going to keep the spare bases in properly labelled boxes, so stock control will be much easier [what do you think? – do you think I’ll keep it better organised in future? – no?...].

I’m going to be working on the French siege stuff for a while – I have lots of gunners to paint up and everything. I’ll put some pictures up as and when items are finished.

For a while I had a brilliant idea that a French siege train, with appropriately nondescript colouring of the equipment, could also serve as a Spanish one, since the artillery uniforms are very similar. When I thought further about it, though, I couldn’t remember the Spanish army actually besieging anything, so this might not be a very high priority. [Please don't anyone mention Frank Sinatra and Sophia Loren.]

Over the next few nights I will be putting together 20mm scale cannon kits, so I will get a chance to try out my new superglue accelerator. This should be an exciting advance, you would think, but I find I am mostly apprehensive. Of what? I’m not sure – I think I must be worried that the accelerator will not work; I find these little disappointments loom larger as I get older…

This post is quite long enough, but I realise that I have not mentioned my ECW basing system, which is different. Only comment I might make is that I cunningly adopted 60mm square bases for both foot and horse, and this has been a great success, except that sometimes, when I am being especially honest with myself, I wish I had chosen 55mm square, which would have fitted my hex-grid tabletop just a bit better. No matter – everything is fine. I promise I am not changing anything.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Hooptedoodle #226 - New Star on the Farm

Not exactly wildlife, and not ours anyway, but there is a new foal on the farm, who is going down very well with the Saturday morning horse ladies, and is becoming a bit of a tourist attraction.

Just a couple of weeks old - this shot is taken about 30 feet from our front garden, so I guess he's a neighbour. Something of a reluctant photographer's model, since he likes to scratch his nose on a fence post, but you get the idea.

Everyone say, "aahhh!".