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

Friday, 4 September 2020

Ten Years of Riotous Fun

Eventually, it came as a complete surprise. This blog has been running for ten years - last Tuesday, in fact. When I first started it, I had no idea what I was doing or getting into - at the outset, I made a personal note to knock it on the head if/when it needed it, and in any case kill it off after 10 years. There has to be a limit to how much rubbish one heart and mind can inflict on the world.

All this time later, I still have no idea what I'm doing. I have made a number of good friends through the blog, for which I'm very grateful, and overall I have relished the experience greatly - I've really enjoyed the writing (I always enjoyed writing) - and I have gained a lot of excellent advice and some important motivation for progressing my hobbies. So - all good, no regrets at all, though I am still perplexed by the occasional death threats...

Anyway, my bluff seems to be called - the scorer is reminding me that time may be up. What to do?

To be honest, I find the world in which I now live is darker and sadder than I had hoped, and (an irritation too far?) the dreaded New Blogger is still sufficient of a pain in the wassname to put me off doing lengthy posts with lots of photos. It would be ridiculous to keep posting just to keep up my batting average - it might become obvious that I have nothing more to say. Nothing helpful, anyway.

It would be too melodramatic to just delete the thing - I would certainly regret that sooner or later, and it would be - well - embarrassing. The one thing that is really saving it this morning is I started reading some of my earliest posts, and I remembered a few things, and I felt a little better about it. So what I'll do is have another quiet spell, I've decided. If I have something to say, I'll think about saying it. If something has happened in my hobby world that I'm pleased about, I may well share it.

Please don't send food parcels. To everyone who has read (or glanced at) this blog over the years I offer my best wishes - really appreciated. To the people I've got to know through my involvement in it, my most sincere thanks for everything. Look after yourselves.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Hooptedoodle #376 - Erm - Do You Have Anything a Little Stronger?

A friend passed me these scans of some Civil Defence-type posters issued by the UK Women's Voluntary Society in 1951, to help the population survive a nuclear attack. A quick read through suggests that everyone, even the WVS, knew that we were well screwed if there was such an attack. Statements like "you will be told..." - right - by whom? It's not that this wasn't well-intentioned, it's just that its earnest uselessness is a classic example of something whose name escapes me at the moment. Perhaps the WVS could assume responsibility for our current Covid-19 planning? I'm really glad we never had to rely on these instructions. Bless em all.

Saturday, 29 August 2020

Hooptedoodle #375 - OCD Holidays with Soss

Portreath Harbour

When I was a kid, my closest relative and friend was a cousin, Dave, who was the same age. I had a pretty gruelling couple of years when I was 11 and 12 - it's a daft age anyway. Most of my friends at school lived some distance away, and I wasn't allowed to invite anyone to our house - this was in case they met my sister, who was mentally handicapped, which is a separate story altogether - my dad wasn't very good with stuff like that.

So I recall a dismal few years when there was a lot of homework and a very small amount of television, and I filled in my spare time by reading in my bedroom, and going for long walks with the dog. I later got some relief when I discovered the pleasures of cross-country running, but for a long time there was pretty much nothing going on. My family didn't talk much.

My cousin, whose parents were separated, got a place as a boarder at Liverpool Bluecoat School. The Bluecoat was an unusual school - it had day pupils - I also knew someone who attended there as a day pupil, but he said he was basically an outcast - the boarding school was very much the heart of the institution. There was a long tradition of places at the school being allocated on a charitable basis, which is how my cousin was accepted. Many of his friends in the boarding house were from military families, frequently British Army people stationed overseas - so he had pals who used to go home to Kenya or Malaya for the Summer holidays. Dave used to go home to sunny Wavertree. *

Liverpool Bluecoat School - I think that's the chapel

He also had a friend called Soss. They were pretty much inseparable. I used to go with Dave's mum to the chapel service at the Bluecoat most Sundays. The boarders all paraded in - very disciplined, full uniform - and there was a full, drawn-out service, organ, choir, proper sermon - the lot. The chapel was dark and cold and grandiose - lots of busts of Lord This and Viscount That, and General The-Other. And very, very hard pews. At the end of the service, the boarders were allowed to meet with any personal visitors - I think I used to get 5 minutes with Dave. Any items passed across had to be approved by a member of staff. I'm sure it was character-building, but my recollection is that it was a bit like a very dignified prison.

Dave was invariably accompanied by Soss, who never had visitors of his own. Soss - short for Sausage (his love of sausages was legendary at the school, apparently), his real name was Danny Burgess - was an odd character. He was quite small, and he never spoke. He would occasionally shrug, or grin nervously when spoken to, and he blinked constantly. He looked like an urchin - he had a pudding-basin haircut, years before the Beatles made such things fashionable, and his blazer was too big, and he always looked uncomfortable, and fidgeted. He was constantly in trouble for not polishing his shoes for the Sunday service.

Soss came from Cornwall. He was at the school as an Army orphan. His dad had been killed during the Suez Crisis. His dad was a driver in a transport section somewhere, and he died in a road accident around Suez time. This gained Soss a lot of contempt from those of his school chums whose families were senior officers in Colonial Places, and it added to his general exclusion. Soss's mother used to come up a couple of times a year for Speech Day, and to meet with his teachers. Her name was Antoinette, and she was a tough, rather battered little lady - very kind and very polite. She was as poor as a church mouse, and used to travel up from Cornwall to Liverpool on a relay of buses, which must have been dreadful. Because she couldn't afford to pay for accommodation, she used to stay with my aunt, and on one occasion, though it seems incredible now, she actually stayed with us. My mother got on very well with her, and they maintained a regular correspondence for some years. My mother was always fascinated by people who had had difficult lives, so I fear Antoinette may have been something of an exhibit.

When I was about 14, I suddenly learned we were going on a Summer vacation to Portreath, on the North Cornish coast, for a week, and we were going to stay with Antoinette. Sounds idyllic, but we were going in a car my dad borrowed from a work colleague who repaired cars in his spare time, and the whole spirit of the trip was along the lines of never mind how awful this is, just think of the money we're saving.

Our destination was Portreath, not far from Redruth. The holiday itself was not great. Antoinette had arranged cheap B&B at a friend's house, about a mile from her own home, for my parents and my sister, and I stayed in the village with Soss (I shared Soss's bedroom) and his mum, and her partner, Walter, who was a bit of a problem. Walter was an ex-marine, and covered with tattoos (by the standards of the day, anyway), and he was loud and aggressive, and argumentative, and he drank a great deal.

I found that I had been allocated a camp bed which rocked like a see-saw, so I stuck my suitcase under one end and a box under the other, and that stabilised things a bit. Soss had part of a large room which had been split into two by putting a partition down the middle, and this partition divided a large bay window in half, so that each half-room had a half-window, which made a sort of alcove where my bed was situated. 

I needed to add a simple map here, since the placing of the bed was one of the themes of the holiday. Problems were threefold: 

* the bed was dreadfully uncomfortable, and smelled of having been stored in someone's garage for years

* there was a street lamp right outside the window, which sounds odd, but the street lamp was a normal-sized lamppost, and the lane outside climbed steeply and turned very abruptly, so the lamppost from down the hill illuminated Soss's room quite brightly, even with the curtains closed

* the bed was tucked into the alcove to save as much space as possible, so I was at an angle to the rest of the room. Because I couldn't sleep anyway, I was constantly staring at the edges of the ceiling, which made very odd angles with my bed, which disturbed me greatly - bugged the hell out of me, with those vivid shadows! In the dead of night I got up, shifted the chair from next to the bed, and moved the camp bed so that it lay against the partition. That was better. The world was straight again, I could go to sleep.

I became acquainted with Walter after bedtime, since he came back from the pub very drunk, and started shouting and banging things about. Soss said we mustn't talk any more until the morning, or there might be trouble.

When I got up in the morning, Walter had gone to his work. He worked irregularly, and it seemed to involve a van and people that Antoinette wasn't happy with, and anyway Soss wouldn't talk about it. Fair enough.

It was a lovely day, so after breakfast Soss took me swimming in the harbour. In those days I had a glass face mask, which I got a lot of fun out of, but with hindsight it probably messed up my swimming, because I never swam any distances - I was always looking at the bottom of the pool, or playing around underwater. Whatever, off we went to the harbour. Soss, of course, swam like a tadpole - well out of my league. Because I had my face mask with me, he came up with a great idea that we would dive down, swim under some wooden fishing boats (they were two-abreast) and come up against the ladder on the harbour side. This was pretty good, actually, but on about my 4th turn the bow-wave from another vessel caused the boats to drift against the harbour wall, so that when I came up the gap had closed - I had a few seconds of absolutely blind terror, but I turned around and had enough breath left to swim back under the boats to the clear water on the far side. There was no real danger - in fact, I could have gone forward to the prow of the boat I was under, which was a shorter distance.

Soss laughed like a drain, of course, and I put a brave face on it, but I'd had a bad fright, whether or not it was justified, and I'd had enough underwater swimming for the day, thank you. I can still remember exactly how it looked and felt when I thought I was stuck down there.

We went back to Soss's house, to get rid of our swimming costumes ("cozzies" in both Liverpool and Cornwall, I recall!). My bed had been shifted back to its angled position, and there was a handwritten note:


Soss said don't worry, that was how things were in his family. I worried.

This looks about right...

OK - next adventure. Soss seemed to have a gift for targeting my neuroses - or possibly helping me create new ones. We took packets of egg sandwiches with us and went for a walk along the beach, round a couple of headlands, to what Soss called his secret beach. That was really very nice - it was deserted; we played around on the sand and in the water until lunch time, threw about a billion pebbles, and then Soss announced that we would have to get off this beach by climbing the 200-foot cliff behind us, since we were now cut off by the tide and the beach would be underwater soon. Once again, he was completely relaxed, totally in his own element, and had never considered that there might be townies who were pathetic enough to be scared of heights (as I was, and still am!). Up the cliff we went - only fear of letting myself down in front of my cousin's friend kept me going, I think, though I can't imagine what alternatives there were. We made it to the top, and I found that I had been clutching my package of sandwiches in one hand all the way up, which can't have been an advantage. There was a lot of very nervous laughter at the top, I can tell you.

Triumph Mayflower - not one of the British classics

And more of the same. I persevered with the oblique bed, dutifully went into hiding each night before Walter roared back from the pub, enjoyed the peaceful days when Walter went to work, and relished a few walks that did not involve cliffs or drowning in the harbour. I saw very little of my family - they may have been pleased to have got rid of me! To be honest, I am astonished that I can't remember much more about my stay in Portreath, though I do know that the weather changed on about day 4, and after about a day of looking at horizontal rain outside (and, I suspect, an argument between Walter and my dad, which could have left me an orphan as well) we cut our losses, and my family drove back to Liverpool in the borrowed car (which was an old Triumph). That was one occasion I was glad to get home again!

* Footnote, nundanket style: One of Dave's great friends at school was Brian Knowles, an exceptional musician, who earned his crust for many years touring as Musical Director with Roger Whittaker (quiet at the back, please), but eventually was established as a composer and performer in his own right. He is now Composer in Residence at the Royal School, Haslemere. I find it hard to imagine him hanging around in cold, dusty corners of the Bluecoat with Dave and Soss. Dave died of prostate cancer when he was only about 50 - Knowlesy played some music at the funeral, in Birkenhead. I have no idea what happened to Soss - my mother's correspondence with Antoinette stopped fairly abruptly!

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Lost & Replaced - Pocket Tripod for My Camera

No, no - this is not a return to the HG Wells theme, this is my replacement mini-tripod. I have to confess that this morning's logic workout was how to take a photo of my new tripod with a camera fitted to it. So I borrowed a camera - this is a body-double. It took a while, but I got there in the end.


I used to have one of these - it was very handy indeed. Light and very compact, I could stick it in my pocket. When fitted to the camera, it gave a very useful pistol-grip option, which is steadier and easier to keep level, and, of course, as a tripod it was very versatile - the bendy legs allowed all sorts of camera heights and angles, and it was great for close-up pics on the wargames table.

Sadly, it was also ideal for putting down somewhere, and losing sight of. About two years ago, I lost it. I think I took it somewhere, and forgot to bring it back. If it had been more substantial and more expensive, I hear you thinking, I'd have taken more care of it. Well - not necessarily, but I know what you are saying.

I decided a while ago that I'd better replace it, and, of course, the 5-minute job of ordering one fell down a very deep well as soon as I saw what was on the market. There are all sorts of bigger and fancier ones, ones with self-levelling platforms, ones with remote-controlled motorised panning, I even saw one with BlueTooth, but what the BT does I can't imagine. So it became obvious very quickly that there was a big market, and I was going to have to take this seriously, and do some proper research, and buy one that was not a toy, and did not come at toy prices.

Well, after about a year of avoiding this extravaganza, I decided that what I really wanted was something light and simple - something very like my old one, in fact.

The other day I found exactly the same tripod on eBay. I ordered one, it arrived in 3 days. £2.99, post free. Goodness me - this Cheap & Cheerful thread is gaining some momentum! The tripod is identical to the old one. Yes, yes - I know - you think I'm going to leave it lying somewhere stupid, in identical reprise of history, and lose the beggar, don't you? Well, it's possible, but, since I have now, at long last, bought a replacement, I am certain that I will find the original one in a pocket of my away-days hold-all bag almost immediately, so I just know I will have a spare handy.

Friday, 21 August 2020

WSS: Cheap & Cheerful - "Limbered" Markers

 It became obvious during my recent playtest session for my WSS rules that something needed to be done about artillery limbers - there aren't any in the game, and my batteries (unusually for me) each consist of only a single gun. I had thought in general terms that I could merely place the gun back to front and that meant it was limbered up. Certainly I have no appetite at all for building proper limber teams, but the back-to-front convention proves to be untrustworthy, and it looks daft anyway.

So I've come up with a cheap, easy solution; there are now markers which can be placed next to the gun when it is limbered up - the gun has to be reversed, so that the trail is towards the horses, but it is now obvious what is going on, and in which direction the contraption is travelling. 

At first I thought, "Oh gosh, I'm going to have to get proper limbers, in 20mm scale, and that means they will have to be painted correctly for each nation - oooh - etc etc". Further, since cannon in the early 1700s each weighed about as much as your average Gothic cathedral, a proper limber team would need enormous numbers of horses, and I really was beginning to hate the whole idea. Amongst the spare figures I have from the Eric Knowles Hoard, there are a decent number of suitable draught horses, so my wizard wheeze was that a simple pair of horses, on a separate base, could be stood next to a gun, and that would suffice. 

Next I went through a tense couple of hours while I decided whether I could be bothered making up some drivers to look after these teams. There is a very useful Hinton Hunt ECW gun crew member who isn't actually doing anything, and I have some of these, so I decided I could hack a few heads off, replace with Irregular tricorn heads, and so on. Again, the job was getting fiddly. So I went back into the Spares Boxes and found enough odd artillery figures to fill the bill. I chose figures armed with sticks or poles of some sort - to encourage the cuddies. Already painted (thank you, Eric), all they and the horses needed was a bath, some gloss varnish and a nice new base - the aim, by now, was to have generic counters which would do for anyone. The driver, of course, may be dressed in any old uniform, but I don't care. The reasoning is:

(1) the artillery train and drivers were mostly civilians, so the driver may be wearing some unknown livery used by the contractor, or may be a soldier helping out, or may be wearing captured clothing, or anything, really. It's only a bloody game, for goodness sake.

(2) the limber is there somewhere, you just can't see it. 

(3) if you hang around for a while, when the gun comes into action the counter will be removed and is unlikely to be seen again - this would be a sad fate for an 8-horse limber team painted to museum standard.

Anyway, the whole project took me about 3 hours and was entirely supplied by existing spare parts - I even used my standard 50x45 MDF bases, of which I have bags (literally). Job done. Scrooge McFoy Productions triumph again.

Here you go - a supply of generic "limbered" markers. Available to all-comers

And here's one in use, contracted to the Imperial Army - yes, that's correct, the unit is obviously travelling to the left; the gun crew like to watch to see where they've been

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Chandler: The Dedication I Missed...

A few weeks ago I was chortling about the £6 second-hand book I bought online which turned out to have been the property of Charlie Wesencraft, as evidenced by a personal library plate on the front end-papers..

Since Charlie was a great friend of the late David Chandler, and it was one of Chandler's books, I made joking references to the fact that I had fleeting hopes that I might have got a signed copy for my £6, but it wasn't to be.

In fact it turns out that it is a signed copy - I was just too stupid to spot it. Here you go - front title page:

I have to say I feel a little awkward about this, bearing in mind that Charlie is still going strong, and wargaming regularly. I imagine that, like all of us, he has thinned down his library from time to time, so the book I bought recently would have been in circulation for perfectly legitimate reasons, and I'm just lucky to have chanced upon it. However, if it were all a mistake, and he would really like to have it back, I'm open to approaches. Mind you, Charlie would have to sign a few books from my own collection as part of the agreement...

Monday, 17 August 2020

Nerds' Corner: Some Mystery Figures...

These aren't mine - any idea what they are? The figures in question are the British Waterloo-period Life Guards at the back of this photo. They are, as you see, of very slim build, and lanky (for comparison purposes, the figures at the front are Alberkens, which are the same size as Hinton Hunts).

Suggestions thus far are Greenwood & Ball, or possibly Stadden from his Tradition period. They have soldered-on sheet metal bases, with corners clipped. I rather like the Old School appearance, but I think they may be too toy-like for Stadden.

Any thoughts?