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

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Genealogy: The Descent of the Higgins Pikeman

This post was originally intended to be an email to Old John, who is the present owner and producer of the old Les Higgins/Pheonix Model Developments 20mm wargames ranges. John has supplied me with the greater part of my ECW armies during the last two years - especially in the Foot department, and I am very fond of these elegant, stylish little figures - I hope he will forgive this public version of what was intended as a private discussion, but I thought it might be of rather wider interest. In the course of buying in new castings, obtaining old stuff from eBay and receiving occasional samples from John of forthcoming products, I suddenly realised that there are more variants of some of the figures than I would expect, given that Higgins did not stay in business very long in their original form.

This is entirely a matter of idle curiosity - I'd be very grateful for any clues or expert views on how this all works, but it doesn't matter, really, beyond scratching a vague itch. As an example, here are some variations on one single pose - the standing pikeman. There is also a pikeman stooped to receive horse, and there is a pikeman involved in what looks to my inexpert eye to be "push of pike", and there are variants of these also, but, to keep things simple, let's just stick to the standing pikeman.

The chap labelled A is (I think) from the original (drop-cast?) "subscription" series which Higgins produced in the 1960s; John has cast some of these, and I'm pretty sure he has them back in production now. D is the famous mainstream pikeman that Higgins produced in large quantities - I'd have chosen a cleaner casting if I'd had a second cup of coffee; I think this is one of the iconic wargame figures from the early 1970s, and is probably largely responsible for Higgins' range being still regarded with such affection. E is a welcome extension to the range which John has added - the same pikeman, but in a hat. The other two figures? - B and C - no idea. They appear to be production figures, and presumably are earlier than D, but they are different again.

The subscription figures are rather slimmer than the later ones, with slightly smaller helmets, and easily distinguishable, but here I seem to have two examples which are similar in stature and style to the famous fellow at D. Maybe the hand-on-hip pose was easier to cast in commercial quantities?

Any thoughts would be most welcome, and if you are interested in the ECW, Marlburian or Colonial ranges of Les Higgins, remember that they are available now, and please contact John via his blog.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Hooptedoodle #155 - Socrates is alive, and drives a taxi

Yesterday I went to Glasgow. It isn’t very far from here, but I don’t go very often; one of my grown-up sons lives there, and visiting him is really the only reason I go.

Trying to judge the timing of my return journey to avoid the Saturday football crowds, I took a taxi back to the station. It was dark, wet, dismal, and the traffic was very slow.

The driver was bald, with a thick neck – the only view I got of his head was exactly like those old photos of WW1 artillery shells.

“Where you going?”

“Queen Street station, please.”

“What train you catching?”

“It doesn’t matter – I’m travelling to Edinburgh, and they are every 15 minutes or something – plenty of time.”

“Edinburgh? [uh-oh] – I see you beat us today, then!”

“What game was that?”

“Hearts beat the Rangers three-nothing.” [Excellent!]

“I didn’t hear the result – not really a Hearts fan.”

What you doing in Glasgow then? [this question doesn’t follow from the football discussion, since the Hearts game was, in fact, in Edinburgh – perhaps he thought I might have come through to Glasgow just to avoid seeing the game.]”

“I was visiting my son – he lives off Maryhill Road.”

“Oh – that’s all right then – why not, eh? [Why not? – hmmm…]

Short silence, while the driver tried to tune in his radio

Crazy day – the town’s full of foreign bloody visitors – none of them speaks proper English, no-one knows where they are supposed to be going – they’re a bloody nuisance. [Right – one of those – presumably he refused to take their money]”

Thinking this was a poor reflection on the former City of Culture, host of the Commonwealth Games and all that, I just grunted. No stopping this guy, though.

I hope we get out of Europe – what’s all that about? They have rules about the shape of a ****ing banana, it says in the paper – what’s all that about? I’m a taxi driver [really?], and I don’t see why I have to work every hour God sends to pay my tax, so some black lassie with five kids can get a house somewhere – why isn’t her man paying tax? [Erm…] It isn’t fair, I say, and there’s a lot like me. [I fear you may be correct]

“Yes, I suppose you’re right. [Whatever]”

Right? I’ll say I’m ****ing right. That’s what’s wrong with Britain today. Anyway, you’re obviously English, are you, from your accent? [uh-oh] What you doing living in Edinburgh?”

“Well I’ve lived in Scotland most of my life – I live on the East coast, not far from Dunbar. [I guessed Dunbar was big enough for him to have heard of it – I was wrong]”

Dumbarton? [harsh guffaw] When I was at school, that was on the West coast – you’re away the wrong way, pal!”

“No – no, Dunbar – its about 40 miles the other side of Edinburgh. [where is that bloody station…?]”

“My daughter lives in Sheffield,” he said, “and all her neighbours complain to her because they can’t understand ‘Still Game’ on the telly – they say it should have subtitles. Can you understand it? [Holy Moses]”

“Yes – never had any problems with that.”

Thank goodness, we reached the station. I paid my fare, and thanked the driver, not very effusively in either action, so be sure. He had one last piece of worldly advice.

“Mind how you go in the station – these ****ing ‘Big Issue’ salesmen and that will have your wallet off you quick as a flash.”

With any lasting pleasure I might have gained from my visit to Glasgow severely muted, I set off to take my chances with the cruel foreigners.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Refurbing again - French Line Chasseurs à Cheval

I've stated here, quite recently, that refurbing old, bought-in, pre-painted figures is mostly more grief than it is worth - unless, of course, there is some particular reason to go down that path. The results are rarely as good as I had hoped, the amount of labour is invariably far more than expected, and so on.

Well, I've been doing some more, despite all the lofty theory. 20mm French line Chasseurs are a rare find - apart from Hinton Hunt and Qualiticast (neither of which is around in sufficient quantities to keep prices down), the best traditional stand-by is the early (20mm) Garrison casting, which can still be found on eBay, and can be very useful if the figures are in good nick. I can never get enough Chasseurs, so I have a quantity of the old Garrisons in my spares box, waiting to be smartened up to take their place in the line.

Today's restored unit is the 15eme Chasseurs. They are certainly not beautiful, but the troopers were passable when I first got them, and their previous history was prestigious enough for me to wish to keep them as is, with basic retouching of chips, new varnish and the official-issue bases and sabot. Sometimes, for reasons which are not clear even to me, it seems right to leave things alone if possible. I've even left the rather faded orange facings and the oversized Garrison swords. These fellows must have been first painted in the late 1960s, I reckon.

One problem, of course, is that Garrison did not do command figures, so my improvised officer and trumpeter are both modern Kennington line Chevauxlegers-Lanciers, with spare Garrison heads fitted, mounted on Garrison horses. The resulting conversions are a little shorter than their colleagues, but their hats match beautifully, so they must be the right size...

The 15eme (and the 14eme, who may or may not appear eventually) have been pencilled into my official Grand Plan OOB for some years, nagging away at me, since I have been aware that they have been sitting in the boxes waiting for a place in the painting queue. Well, they're finally done - quite satisfying, really. The flaky trumpeter in sky blue is correct, by the way.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Hooptedoodle #154 - RBS - it's not just me, then?

I regret that I have been known to express some dissatisfaction with the UK banks from time to time, and anyone who is here looking for wargaming material may well be sick and tired of my banging on about it. Well, I'm very sorry, but it seems that the Royal Bank of Scotland, along with a few other British banks, have been naughty boys again. RBS, if we recall, only exists because the UK government (= taxpayer) baled them out when their mismanagement broke the game. The gentleman in this clip is Paul Mason, finance editor of the UK's Channel 4 news service; as far as I can see, he is not discussing commercial or political strategy here - he appears to be arguing from an ethical viewpoint.

Thought for today: Whatever happened to Mr Cameron's Fair Society?

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Adventures of General Reel (or Rile)

It takes me a while to build up to these things; for some time I’ve been aware of the Pen & Sword series of Napoleonic DVDs, but I was rather put off by some unenthusiastic customer reviews on Amazon. Eventually, I had a careful think about the matter (prompted by a reduction in price, I admit) – if we are sensible about such things, I am not looking for a piece of great art, and I have previously bought and enjoyed the Pegasus series of ECW films (notwithstanding their cheerful, home-movie quality and the guy in the dodgy fake whiskers playing Charles I), so I decided to order some up.

I bought all four of the Waterloo Collection volumes, plus the newer one about Salamanca. Thus far I have watched the first two of the Waterloo items, and I am very pleased with them – I found no trace of the sound problems which came in for such harsh criticism on Amazon from Napoleon Fan, of Hants, UK, and quickly got into the feel of the presentation. This is not the History Channel – thank God – we do not get constant reminders (in case we have forgotten in the previous 10 seconds) that “he is now in great danger – if a bullet hits him in the head he could be deaded” – and the pace and style are fine. I warmed to the affable chaps (all professional battlefield guides, apparently) who walked us around the various locations and described the action sensibly and in a manner calculated to enable us to get a good feel for how the battle developed. I felt, whilst watching, that a film presentation can have definite advantages over actually being there; that is not to say that I would not like to go there, but watching the film gives a valuable overview and covers more ground more quickly than a walking tour could, for example. All right – go there, but watch the films first.

All very positive then – provided you approach this in the right spirit, I would recommend these films wholeheartedly (this is based only on having watched the first two, of course) – they are intelligently done and very informative – well, I found them so. A few minor themes occurred to me on the way:

(1) the film makers have gone to a lot of trouble to correct the traditional British downplaying of the role played by the Dutch-Belgian and German troops in the Waterloo campaign, which is welcome.

(2) the many inserted clips of re-enactors add colour and a lot of authenticity, but most of the participants, strangely, seem unable to stand up straight, never mind march convincingly. A real sergeant would have given them all a right shouting-at. I’m sure the buttons and lace are correct, but it would be nice if they looked like soldiers, too, rather than like self-conscious office workers dressed up. That may have been a very elderly thing to say – I’ll think about that.

(3) the presenters’ grasp of French pronunciation is so universally, well, crap, that at first I almost thought it must be a joke. I have no wish to appear precious about this, but if I were making a film about a battle involving a lot of people and places with French names (to show on the telly, like), I think I would have taken a little more trouble to get the hang of this – especially if I claimed to make my living at battlefield tours, and thus, presumably, to travel in Belgium a lot. It is not even up to the WW1 soldiers’ “san-fairy-anne” standard – at least that was a phonetic approximation. No, this is a literal, schoolboy reading of French words, mispronounced with the most English of English accents, avoiding all traces of any (embarrassing?) foreign-sounding inflection. Did they coach them specially? Did they agree this strange assault on the French tongue, as a matter of policy, before they started? Interesting. Poor old General Reille is referred to by a number of versions of his name – none even slightly correct. In the general flow of things, General Drouet d’Erlon morphs into General Drouot, who I believe was a different bloke altogether. Not to worry – it grates a bit, but I got used to it.

Not put off by any of this, I look forward to watching Part 3 tonight. Very good on a dark evening, with a glass of something.

Reading further, I see that the same team have produced a further two titles on the Peninsular War, one being a history of the 95th Rifles and one entitled The Keys to Spain, which I believe is a discussion of fortresses and sieges. I am intrigued to see that these are available only in the American NTSC format (that’s “Never the Same Color”, I am told) and are Region 1, so will not play on European TV equipment. Somewhere in my library of software I’m sure I have something which will convert video files into other formats, so I must look further in to this. Maybe they are available in a more UK-friendly format, and I just missed them.

Anyway, if you’re prepared to approach them in the right spirit, these DVDs would make a nice little stocking filler. God – is it that time already?

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Background Artillery Project - Further Progress

Five more French limbers completed and in the boxes - 3 foot artillery and 2 horse. I've kept the size and detail of the photo down, and left the flash switched off, to avoid another roasting from my new chums at TMP.

For the train spotters, the horses and drivers are from Art Miniaturen and Scruby, the limbers from Hinchliffe 20mm, Minifigs S-Range and early Lamming, and the guns - the ones I can identify - are from NapoleoN, Hinchliffe 20 and Scruby.

This expansion necessitated a reorganisation of the artillery box files - I now have a new box labelled MULES & CARTS. Guess what's in that one?

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Hooptedoodle #153 - The Bringer of Confusion

Though you might think the photo shows some more of my extended family, this is a representation of Nuhlimkilaka, the Bringer of Confusion - an ancient Navajo forest spirit. The photo dates from 1914, apparently.

On a day when I learned, to my alarm, that British general practitioners have been receiving incentive payments for diagnosing cases of dementia, it is no comfort to find that old Nuhlimkilaka has been busy around here again.

I managed to knock a couple of little boxes off the top shelf of my study cupboard, and one of them is the tin which contains my Commands & Colors: Napoleonics battle dice and (cardboard) Victory Banner counters. Naturally it burst open on the way down, so I had to heave the entire contents of the lower section of the cupboard out, to find all the bits. I did a quick count to make sure I'd found everything; I had all 10 of the battle dice, but I don't know how many VB counters there should be without checking the rulebook. I counted them and found there were 2 more French banners than there were British ones, so had a good search around the corners of the cupboard - no more found. Counted them again, to check - this time there were 2 more British than French. Hmmm. I was counting them a third time when I remembered that they are printed on both sides, one side British, one side French. 

I swear I heard faint laughter coming from the woods at the rear of the house.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Hooptedoodle #152 - Spooks & Villains

Casual post, carefully timed to be not-quite-seasonal, as behoves one who is not-quite-on-the-ball.

Hallowe'en is an odd one for me - I have a vague understanding that the traditional festival is the night when the souls of the departed get up for a bit of a boogie around the churchyard, but it's all become very confused with the American Trick or Treat thing, not to mention Guy Fawkes. The gift and greeting card and party-gear industries have climbed all over this, naturally, and left us with a strange, pseudo-gothic hotch-potch whose main theme seems to be extraction of money with menaces by kids dressed in ready-made outfits, the royalties for which will go straight into the coffers of a predictable, short list of American film and TV companies. Of course, the kids still enjoy it, however the tradition may have slipped, which is the most important point.

So that's all right then. In fact, things have moved on a bit here - I have been known to do the Uncle Scrooge bit, turning off the lights at the front of the house on Hallowe'en, in the hope that the local kids would pass by (believing I was out, or even dead), but the local kids have mostly grown up now, and would not choose to waste their time coming here anyway if they hadn't. The ancient Scottish tradition of "Guising" - when children dress up as dead people and ask for money (an activity which is now mostly carried out by the government, come to think of it) - has largely been subsumed by Trick or Treat and fund-raising for fireworks. A tradition of any sort may be better than no tradition at all, I suppose, but I am waiting suspiciously for an official, copyrighted, Christmas cartoon image of the Infant Jesus to emerge from the Disney empire quite soon.

On the wildlife front, the unusual summer has brought us unprecedented numbers and sizes of butterflies, an astonishing display of toadstools on the front lawn, and all sorts of wonders. One recent discovery has been the identity of the mystery chewer of our plum tree - here he is, trespassing...

Villains on a different scale altogether are still all around us. A couple of days ago my phone rang, and a gentleman introduced himself, representing a market research organisation who, it seems, have been hired by the Royal Bank of Scotland to get feedback from their customers. If I had 15 to 20 minutes, he said, he would be delighted to discuss the matter with me.

I try not to be impolite on such occasions, since the poor man is only doing his job, but it occurred to me that

(1) the market research organisation may be a wholly-owned subsidiary of RBS.

(2) I did not have 15 minutes to talk to him.

(3) anything genuine which I had to suggest to him about RBS and their operation would not fit with his list of questions or interesting themes - and since this reduces the whole exercise to the sort of self-promotion and lie engineering which we might expect, I became a little terse.

I told the fellow that I did not really have time to speak with him, but would he please take careful note that it is some years since I had any dealings with RBS, and I do not wish to be contacted by them again until I say so. In short, I said (without swearing - I must get some credit for that), I am not a customer, and this is because all my family's business was taken away from RBS and placed elsewhere, entirely because they demonstrated to us repeatedly that they were the most stupid, error-prone, unhelpful, self-obsessed organisation we have ever had dealings with. Are you writing this down?

"Well, sir," he replied, "you are, of course, entitled to your opinion."

And there the conversation ended, though I am sure they will be back. Just a flaming minute - I am entitled to my opinion? Is that not, in fact, exactly the pretence under which they were attempting to get me to play along with their customer feedback in the first place? Do I actually require RBS, or their hired help, to tell me that I have such an entitlement? Does their conceit have no limits?

Next year, dress your kids up as RBS officials on October 31st, and send them out to sell your neighbours loan repayment insurance, or house insurance, or savings accounts which yield very little apart from inconvenience and regular irritation. That should scare the bejesus out of them.