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

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Commands & Colors - Keeping Things Nice

Sometimes when I can't sleep, I play a game in my head which I call "Memory Walks". In this game, you select a place you know fairly well - or, preferably, once knew well - and are comfortable with. I often use my grannie's house when I was a little boy - a house which, by the way, I haven't seen in 50 years. The technique is to move around the house in your imagination, remembering what was next to the fireplace in the kitchen, visualising the big clock next to the stairs, recalling the smell in the back kitchen (bacon and bleach), and so on. It gives the brain a low-stress workout, and it almost always gets me off to sleep by the second room or so.

The game also gives some insights into how times have changed, and things which were part of growing up and which I haven't thought about for a long time. In my grannie's house, the first door on the left inside the front door was almost always kept shut. It was The Parlour. Last bastion of working class gentility, it was only used at Christmas, or when someone very important visited (which, sadly, was a very short list - the man from Prudential Insurance, collecting his weekly pennies, maybe the occasional church minister). In theory, it was also available for laying out the deceased in times of family tragedy. I did go in there occasionally - probably when my grannie got tired of my prattling about nothing during the school holidays, and sent me to play the most out-of-tune piano I ever heard.

I was intrigued by the atmosphere of The Parlour - by the fact that the curtains were hung inside out so the neighbours could see the pattern, by the swordfish's nose on the wall (all Liverpool families had seafaring relatives), by the heavy-duty, embroidered antimacassars and arm protectors which covered the sofa and armchairs, and by the almost religious dedication to Keeping Things Nice. Nothing must be soiled, nothing must ever wear out or get broken.

Fast forward the film a couple of generations. That parlour sprung a far-flung family who still covered their best dining chairs with tea-towels, to stop them wearing, to Keep Them Nice. For what? For whom? What was the special occasion, who was the celebrity visitor they were being saved for? Did they ever arrive?

By this time we are no longer speaking of post-war austerity - this is just the way people were raised. I'm not in a position to mock, either - I am the man with a glass cupboard full of lovely soldiers which is fitted with blinds so that usually no-one can see them, in case the sun fades the flags.

Dice of Thunder - non-standard issue

And now my set of Commands and Colors has arrived, and of course I am pleased with it, yet slightly worried that some of the components may have a finite duty cycle. I have replaced the supplied dice with a better design, and varnished them carefully to preserve the surface of the stick-on symbols. I have now encased the playing cards (which are, to be honest, rather disappointingly flimsy) with clear plastic sleeves to protect them, and I am laughing out loud at myself. The cards are much tougher now, no doubt, and the sleeves are well made and exactly the correct size, but the cards are quite a lot thicker, and slippy, and handling them in bulk is a bit like trying to shuffle and deal After-Eight Mints. No doubt they will be fine, but I may just remove the sleeves again if I keep dropping the cards on the floor.

And all in the sacred cause of Keeping Things Nice, of making things last forever! At least Grannie would have been proud of me.

Change of subject. While we're on an OCD kick, I note that the rule book for Commands & Colors mentions that there will be a future expansion set to cover very large actions, to be titled La Grande Battle. Pardon? There it is again - the dreaded franglais étranglé. I keep coming across this in wargames. I guess it is because the history of warfare, by definition, keeps turning up the activities of nations who (rather inconveniently) did not speak English. It would be very easy to appear to be trying to be a smart-ass here, but if someone wishes to include some French to add authenticity, or even some romantic colour, it does seem worth the effort to get it right, or at least to avoid awkward mixtures.

I have long grown used to George Nafziger's reference to the 22nd Ligne and similar - in fact I probably do this myself - but what language, pray, is Guard du Corps? I'm also not completely comfortable with John C Candler's Miniature Wargames du Temps de Napoleon (though I am assured that the rules are excellent, and no disrespect to Mr Candler is intended). I recently obtained a copy of the 3rd edition of the Corps Command rules, and I find that one of the possible results of skirmish combat is termed Suave Que Puet. Why? - what's wrong with Run Away?

I can see there is a fair chance that someone will send a comment to take me down a peg or two, and I probably deserve it, but - come on, rule writers - Keep Things Nice!


  1. Interesting, I feel an urge to say some thing both folksy and pithy about what makes us what we are but ........ I am notoriously non-observant of my surroundings, (a trait I share with my sister btw to some people's amusement and other's annoyance) and would have a hard time taking a mental walk through my own house let alone my uncle's farm 40 years ago. Still I suspect the exercise would be good for the soul and I must attempt it in some quiet moment. Thank you for talking about it.

    I applaud your comments on the insertion of foreign words, like the once popular insertion of latin into
    books of all sorts, it seems intended to show off the writer/speaker's "superior" knowledge rather than to enlighten. I've even started trying to stop myself from using hoplite and peltast, the anglicized version of these terms) when referring to ancient greeks but habits run deep.

    "Sauve qui peut" instead of "every man for himself" is interesting, it seems to have worked its way into the larger vocabulary and into memoirs etc and so is acceptable to me but I wonder if the intent is to imply that this is a foreign activity?


  2. Is that Suave que peut (French for Roger Moore, perhaps?) or sauve qui peut?

    Looking forwar to more on C&C


  3. Ross - Insertion of Latin (or, better, Greek) expressions in English texts seems to have gone out of fashion, thank goodness, now that education has been largely replaced by wealth as a source of snobbery. A Welsh friend once pointed out that he had never seen expressions in Welsh used in the same way. He likened this to the way in which "I broke my arm skiing at St Moritz" somehow has more kudos than "I have a boil on my backside".

    Clive - the expression used in Corps Command was "Suave que puet", with two exclamation marks, but otherwise as I recorded it. It could be a very specialised form of retreat for dyslexic French troops, of course, but some of the English in the same publication is a little uncertain as well. There is much evidence of the verb "to shall", which is a bit of a hobbyhorse of mine, and there is a section entitled "Battlemad or the Call for Vengence" which is stirring stuff. Sorry - I have no wish to be mean-spirited about any of this. I once had a boss who was such a fanatic about spelling that, if you deliberately inserted a wrongly-spelled word in a report, he would be so distracted as to completely fail to notice that the report was otherwise rubbish anyway.

    OCD does have its uses.


  4. Another trick (recommended for the over 50's) is to walk yourself through the day that has just finished and remember everything you did in detail - trouble is it is more likely to stress you out than relax you!

    I do hope you have some kid gloves for handling those dice, I would if it were me...


  5. I must admit I'm something of a fan of franglais and mutilating other tongues. My darling wife who speaks five languages still recalls with horror a holiday to Rome when I loudly addressed a particularly obnoxious waiter (who had been studious ly ignoring Mrs. Kinchs fluent idiomatic Italian) as "What ho Guiseppe bringey spaghetti plus chop chop, savey?"

  6. I think I would have required the forensic lab to check over the pasta before I ate it. You're a braver man than me, antagonising Roman waiters. I was going to add an apt Greek quotation at this point, but the only thing I could think of was a line from "Shirley Valentine".

  7. Hi Tony,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading that, so well written. Had me laughing away to myself. Its funny how thinking back can almost seem like another period in time (well, of course it is!)but what I mean is just how much things have changed. I have done the mental tour of my late Nan's house many times and it is surprising the details you remember, the coal hole and bunker and the smell of coal dust, the sound of an open firing drawing up the chimney, the newspaper being placed over the fire to encourage draw, the tin bath in front of the fire on a Sunday evening..... I could describe every room as it was such a happy place. I remember clearly a dark Victorian or Edwardian bedside lamp with an engraved dragon winding itself about it and it used to keep me awake when I slept over there but as regular as clockwork I would her the heavy footsteps of the local bobby on the beat and get out of bed to watch him stroll by and that would reassure me. Weird and wonderful memories and I often do just as you do and revisit as a means of relaxing myself off to sleep. Yes, my old nan also liked to 'keep things nice' and its a trait that has also rubbed off on me so your behaviour seems completely normal to me, if funny to read. Its just such a pity that it does not seem to have rubbed off on our three daughters!

    Keep 'em coming Tony.


  8. Being half Liverpudlian Welsh (!) I used to go and stay with my grandparents in Aintree during the hols. (the other half is Yorkshire Viking and I lived in the West Riding) Now my Grandfather had worked his way up from a telegram boy in the GPO to Senior Executive Officer in the telephone division (via service in the 22nd Dragoons - another story) so he had bought a rather smart house in Orrell Park, but even so we still had the working class parlour which had all those pristine cabinets and what seemed like acres of pink cut glass ornaments, piano and the back to front curtains. This house had three floors and nine rooms in all so everybody of course lived in the kitchen most of the time.

    I understand the place is now three flats and I have no wish to see it again, the memories are all.

  9. Hi Benjamin - the wonder of it all is that your Liverpool/Welsh and Yorkshire/Viking forebears got to meet each other! The only thing I remember of Orrell Park was the notorious dances at the Ballroom - wrong end of the city for me - my lot mostly came from Princes Park and Aigburth and Mossley Hill, though I think my mother lived in Walton when she was an infant. The "street view" on Google Maps is a wonderful way to revisit your past, without getting wet or being mugged. I introduced my mum (now 85) to Google Maps, and managed to put her right outside the front door of the house she lived in during her time in Paris as a child. Her face was worth seeing, and it unlocked a whole pile of stories about the neighbours, the corner shop, the concierge - this would all be 1930-35. We could even look up the outside of the building, and see her balcony. Magic.

    Thanks for getting in touch - you seem to be reading up on some of my back catalogue! - sorry about all the rubbish!

    Cheers - Tony

  10. Aye Tony - reading the blog back to front; and not rubbish at all; though the maths/computer bits give me a headache at times (at which I engage my ex-Nuclear Physicist wife to try to explain things to me - usually unsuccessfully being a bear with very little brain) This is in the wrong thread I know but I did get a Spectrum 48 when they came out and bought a computer moderated Spanish Civil War set of rules for it; I think got at a Kensington Town Hall Salute decades ago - that I may well still have hidden away somewhere, I will try and find it and report back.