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

Monday, 10 February 2014

Hi-ho, hi-ho – plus Stephen and Buddy

…it's off to work we go
The prospect of getting back to some siege gaming (an activity which – strangely – was actually discouraged by my Peninsular War campaign) has got me sifting through the boxes of not-quite projects to get some more engineering and supply units finished off.

First hit was an easy one – a little group of British infantry pioneers, individually based. Right away, I have to admit that these are not really a siege-type unit – there will be proper sappers and miners for that later on, with the regulation brown bases. These fellows exist primarily because it seems like a good idea, and there is already in existence a French equivalent. Next admission is that I don’t actually have any rules to allow the pioneers to influence the game, but now that I have a unit for each side I am more likely to do something about that.

They are, as you will see, from Minifigs “interim” range – the one after the S-Range and before the current range of clinically obese chaps. There isn’t much available in metal in this scale. My French sapeurs are a mixture of Kennington and Falcata castings, which gives some variety of poses. I had intended to use S-Range Brits for the pioneers, but the S-Range pioneer is a disappointingly weedy looking sculpt, who looks as if he is struggling with his axe, and might have trouble sharpening a pencil. So it’s the intermediates – these are BN55, vintage circa 1974?

Since this is an informal collective (pool?) of bods from various regiments, they have mixed facings. If you want someone to lose that gate for you, or to help with building a bridge, these could be just the fellows. I regret that there are no beards on show, but the castings have no beards. I tried painting a beard on, but the effect was funnier than I had hoped.

Subject 2: Stephen Fry

Of late, I have given up trying to paint soldiers with the TV on. Wearing my painting glasses, I cannot see the TV, never mind work out what is on the screen, so these days I listen to music while painting. This weekend it has been the usual mixed bag – Mississippi John Hurt (brilliant, but after 20 minutes it all sounds the same, and is always in the same key, which doesn’t help), Buffalo Springfield (disappointingly dated, and not as good as I remembered), Herbie Hancock (excellent – I played River, which is an album of Joni Mitchell’s music, with guest vocals provided by numerous worthies, including Leonard Cohen and – erm – Joni Mitchell), Cassandra Wilson (terrific, and sexy in a slightly weird way), and a boxed set of Mendelssohn’s symphonies. Intuitively, it seems odd that Buffalo Springfield seemed more dated than Mendelssohn, but hey.

One of the things I did not watch on the TV was Stephen Fry’s QI show, which makes me decidedly uncomfortable. If you haven’t seen it, it consists of a sort of bogus panel game, which is entirely designed to perpetuate the legend that SF is the cleverest fellow on the planet. The panel members do not always sit easily in their role as stooges, but the show can be very amusing nonetheless.

It’s hard to put my finger on why Stephen’s public image grates with me. I actually quite like him – he is unpredictable and witty and frequently endearing. I just get very fed up with the constant force-feeding of his TV packaging as a National Treasure – fed up in the same way that I became fed up with the constant overexposure of David Jason and the late John Thaw (great talents, both) on British TV in past years.

No amount of TV is going to make me accept that Mr Fry is an intellectual, or a great scholar, or Oscar Wilde, or Dr Johnson. My attention is limited – I will find it more convenient if he remains a comedian, an occasional writer and – to be brutal – a TV personality. I am happy with him in that more digestible role.

I hasten to add that I have huge affection for the old Jeeves & Wooster series he did with Hugh Lawrie, which remains one of the very brightest gems of British television in my humble opinion. In fact, now I come to remember that I have an Amazon gift voucher which someone very kindly sent me for Christmas, I must have a look to see what boxed sets of DVDs are available for that series. While I’m at it, I should check out what there is of the old black-and-white Tony Hancock shows. You have to be careful with this – it would be awful to be confronted with the fact that – like Buffalo Springfield on Saturday – these shows are not as good as I think they were. Tricky stuff, nostalgia.

One of the very strangest bits of Stephen Fry was when they sent him on a trip to America – touring in a London cab. His visit to Chicago included an interview – in the cab, naturally – with Buddy Guy, the great urban blues legend. The idea of Fry empathizing with Buddy’s recollection of what life was like for an impoverished black musician in 1950s Chicago is bizarre. I suspect that they could have achieved a comparable amount of empathy by getting Stephen to travel round Chicago in his taxi with a grizzly bear – he is affable and enthusiastic and correct, but these worlds never quite collided, did they?


  1. There's a disturbing trend in the Canadian Army where more and more men want to wear beards, influenced, no doubt, by the hirsute tendencies in pro hockey and baseball. A former CO and I were lamenting this trend the other day, and agreed that unless you wore an apron and carried an axe (or at least, your trade once did), then you shouldn't have a beard. There is no rationale for this line of thought other than tradition, but there are worse arguments, I suppose. I can't look at those Minifigs in your photo without a) wishing they had beards and b) hearing the dwarves music from Snow White. Ack.
    Ref Stephen Fry, I agree, he seems a clever and endearing actor, but he's not a Wit in the sense that Wilde and Johnson were. I recently watched him in that series about the lawyer in Norfolk (name escapes me) via Netflix. Perfectly entertaining, but mostly his repertoire was confined to a charming sort of mugging.

    1. Facial hair comes and goes - sometimes it is only fashionable stubble. How is the Canadian Navy on beards? I'm aware that beards at sea are somehow different. Traditional rules about hair and whiskers mostly are more to do with lice than with virtue.

    2. Is the fashion not something to do with the wearing of beards in Afghanistan? "I've been out in the Sandpit" (or want to look like I have).

      Rather like soldiers post-Crimea starting a trend for whiskers.

    3. The Royal Canadian Navy, as it has gone back to calling itself, still allows beards, though we are talking stubble, really, as the beard cannot interfere with the seal of breathing apparatus / CBN protection. Mr. King is right, troops in Afghanistan got away with murder if they were in FOBs on the excuse that there was no water to shave with. It all looked rather Crimean War. These fellows had a hard time when the got back to garrison life and had to shave.

  2. I share your liking for the album "River" and for Cassandra Wilson but the Mendelssohn I can't get on with, give me Mahler and Vaughn Williams any day. Brahms has been creeping up the leader board of late. For painting, I like Radio 4 for its history and current affairs and comedy.

    1. Mendelssohn was not very interesting - i dig the box out every now and then to see if it has improved, but it was still fairly predictable. Tonight we have a box of Sibelius symphonies (better, for me), a couple of CDs from John Scofield's funk period and Stan Getz's live albums from Copenhagen, which are heart-stopping.

      I'm a big fan of VW, though I slightly prefer his orchestral suites etc to the symphonies. Mahler I know less about - I think I have two symphonies on CD. that's about it.

  3. I look forward to seeing the upshot of the siege games. Will you be picking something out of Myatt or will they be from your solo campaign?

    I tend to lean towards audiobooks when I'm painting - Stephen Fry made a good fist of the Harry Potters actually and I listened to them again before Christmas. His book on poetry isn't bad at all, but for the most part I think you have the right of it. He was better when he was funny.

    1. I'm still rule-tweaking, so there will be some imaginary efforts early on. The later ones will probably be imaginary too, come to think of it. Last time I tried this, some bits didn't work - in particular, mining and counter-mining as so effective that it wasn't worth doing all that tiresome bombardment. I have all my notes from last time. Kick off point is a very slightly modded version of the rules from the back of the Chris Duffy book. There will be a better selection of artillery this time. The heart of the game is 24-hour turns, and then switch to 15-minute turns when something tactical happens.

  4. Hmmm . . . Fry. Being in touch with my female side, I can multitask and this includes painting figures while watching TV and arguing the toss on a variety of subjects with my son (28, still single and still in the process of leaving home for God's sake). This being the case, I often catch Fry's QI ego trip with his pet monkey, Alan Davies. I seem to follow the consensus with my admiration of him except that I've never found him that funny. He was good enough in the Black Adder series, but he had a strong support there. I have very mixed feelings about next Sunday when Emperor Luvvie presides over the BAFTA show.
    The old Tony Hancock shows are as good as I remember them as are the Eric Sykes sets, so I'd go for them instead of the J&W.