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

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Matchstick Cathedral

When I was a kid I read a short story - it may be well-known, I can't remember much about it. A mysterious man takes a room in an apartment block in Paris, and keeps very much to himself. The concierge, true to her trade, lets herself into his room on one of his rare days out, and finds that he is building a colossal matchstick model of Notre Dame cathedral - in the most astounding detail. She becomes fascinated, and keeps checking on its progress when he is away. She wonders what he will do when it is complete.

Eventually, of course, it is complete and the man disappears, and in a week or two the police are called in. They never find him. As the detective is locking up for the last time, he has a final, long look at the model - through the tracery windows he looks at the tiny pews, rows and rows of them, the statuary, the shrines. If it were not impossible, he could swear that he can see a tiny figure walking about in the dark interior. Shaking his head, the policeman turns out the light and locks the door as he leaves.

That story always bothered me a bit. When I was eleven or so I used to lie next to my model railway and imagine whiat it would be like to live in the little houses next to the line. One thing is for sure - the standard of factory painting on Hornby Dublo passengers and railway personnel would have made them pretty nightmarish companions! The whole idea of literally disappearing into one's obsession is interesting, I guess.

This morning, apart from the sounds of triumph as my young son gradually found the hidden chocolate Easter eggs around the house, there was a sudden roar of laughter from me as I printed off a correctly-sized flag for one of my new Spanish guerrilla units.

There was a posting here some weeks ago in which I was experimenting with antique fonts to get flags like this exactly right. I produced one such this morning, loosely based on some known real examples, gave it a tasty little skull-&-crossbones device and a textured overspray to make it look a bit mucky. Here is a large view of it - the green border, as ever with my flags, is not part of the design - it is simply added to make it possible to cut out a white flag from white paper!

I was really pleased with the effect, and I printed off a 1/72 scale copy to see how it looked. If I print the whole image so it is 13mm high, it trims down to about 10mm high, which is what I wanted. It was probably obvious all along, gentlemen, but of course you cannot read the flag at this size - almost any font at all would have done. No-one will ever be able to tell how good it might be.

Except the little man inside the matchstick cathedral, of course.

I have now completed another 6 little units of guerrilleros - they do not have their flags yet, or their proper battlefield sabots, but they turned out fine. There are a couple of interlopers from HaT and Kennington, to make up the numbers, but otherwise these are all the reissued Falcata figures. The mixture I have here probably is an impossible amalgam of different regional types who would never have spoken to each other, never mind fought together, but they look suitably rough and tough. The leader illustrated below has a certain humorous quality - come to think of it, that is not a common feature of my armies. You may spot some chaps above who are wearing regular army style uniforms - according to Charles Esdaile's Fighting Napoleon, it was commonplace for men to desert from the regulars or militia to join the partidas - the pay was frequently better, and the looting was definitely better!


  1. Funny? You think the officer is funny? If you were 22mm tall, I do not think you would like to tell him to his face that he is funny.

    Since I am quite a bit bigger than 22mm I will however call the whole band of bands delightful.

    1. I have a small ambition to include a guy in the guerrilla forces wearing a Barcelona football jersey or similar. I like these little jokes - my Ancient Brits used to have all sorts of oddballs in there - including a warrior queen in a chariot who looked very like Margaret Thatcher, which is a blood-curdling prospect. I always had to point out these cameo appearances to visiting generals - reaction used to range from a slightly raised eyebrow to no reaction at all. I was probably more fun in those days, though whether anyone noticed is a moot point.

  2. Great post. I remember as a child always looking at my toys and models wondering what it would be like to play in them within their scale. I usually found that 'the other kids' wanted their toys to be up-scaled to their size but I always preferred it the other way around. Probably says loads about my psyche...

    1. Shrinking down to the size of the toys is definitely the way to go. Even as a kid, I would have worried about the storage problem if the toys had got bigger. My dad would have been furious.

  3. Replies
    1. Most of the Sci-Fi/Mystery short stories I read in those days were from the Pan Book of Horror series - I doubt we would think there was much horror in them now.

  4. Is there a man sounding a pipe in one of the bases?
    P.S. A good history!

    1. Hi Rafa - yes - two of the units have bagpipes instead of drummers. Must be a morale deduction for any enemy troops hearing them?

      Cheers - Tony

  5. Beautiful story. Conrad is right. reminiscent of Borges.
    the bagpipes are normal in northwestern Spain. Currently, some regiments wear them in his band of music

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