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


Saturday, 31 October 2015

1809 Spaniards - Granaderos a Caballo de Fernando VII


I'm very pleased to welcome another new cavalry unit. The idea for this lot first occurred to me last year - it was the subject of a post on this blog in Sept 2014. There have been a few delays along the way, but here they are, and today I've even got them based up and provided with a flag. All they need now is the regulation (light cavalry) 160mm x 110mm sabot and they will be ready to fight.

The figures, as you will see, are Hinton Hunt conversions. Though "Horse Grenadiers" suggests elite heavy shock cavalry, similar to the French Old Guard regiment, these fellows were nothing of the sort - the title was in all probability merely an attempt at bravado. The historic unit they represent was one of the new regiments formed after 1808. Coronel Fernan Nuñez raised them in Extremadura, and in February 1809 they are described as the Regimiento F Nuñez, while a return from Sevilla, in April of the same year, describes them as Husares. Though they were clearly a light cavalry regiment, similar in style and dress to the line regiments of cazadores a caballo, their title appears to have firmed up as the Granaderos a Caballo de Fernando VII by May 1809.

They have a proper campaign history - the unit fought at Ocaña and elsewhere. By 1810 they had become the Husares de Fernando VII, and pelisses were added to the uniform. In my army they'll be brigaded with the mounted cazadores and the husares, which is where they rightly belong.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Hooptedoodle #197 - The Joy of Socks


Left to myself, I am a creature of habit and of comfort. I like old sweaters - they are familiar and they are comfortable, reassuring - and I also tend to wear old socks.

Socks, sadly, do not last forever - even I, the Prince of Stinge, must fork out for replacements from time to time. As a sop to some faded concept of smartness, maybe just from a sense of shame, I do try to throw them out when they lose all elasticity, slithering (infuriatingly) down into my boots when I'm walking. I also kill off any that develop holes. The Contesse does an excellent job of replacing the casualties with pairs of new socks, and I have to say that any slight vestige of presentability which I retain is mostly down to her.

Recently we have made a special effort to get rid of some old horrors, and buy in quantities of new ones. I like simple socks - inexpensive, sports-style socks are my traditional choice. Well, I do not wish to spread alarm, but something odd has happened. I have started to find that my legs and ankles are swelling a bit as the day goes on, and I am caused some discomfort by my socks gripping too tightly.

Before you rush (as, I confess, I did myself) to point accusing fingers at the brandy, or my decadent lifestyle, I have to announce a shocking discovery.


Evidence. Here are two of my new socks. They are identical, apart from the fact that the one on the left is fresh from the pack, unworn, and the one on the right has been worn and washed a few times. The socks are badged Slazenger, as you will see, but I am confident they come from the same Far-Eastern factory with a variety of brand logos. What is going on? - some fiendish foreign plot? Little wonder I have been having problems - I am astonished that I haven't spotted this before.

The problem is that the shrinkage is not immediate - it takes a few washes to progress this far. I now see that another wholesale clear-out of socks is required, and soon.

I can't fathom this out at all. Is it possible that, like light bulbs and bananas, the physical properties of the common sock have suddenly changed, for the worse? Surely this can't be down to global warming?

Saturday, 24 October 2015

1809 Spaniards - Command Figures for Regimiento "Ordenes Militares"


Another little group of command figures emerges, blinking, into the bright lights. This is an example of the classic 1805 regulation uniform. Ordenes Militares were the 31st line regiment of the Spanish army; like Navarra (24th), America (26th) and Jaen (30th) they had dark blue facings, but the configuration of white lapels, blue collars and white metal buttons identifies them uniquely. I'll get their flags printed up during this next week.

You know what they say about men with big noses? - that's right, the
Colonel of the 31st can smell the enemy miles away. This is a Falcata
casting. He is wearing his sash of the Order of Sant Iago.
I'm expecting a new unit of light cavalry to be finished sometime this week, and painting continues for the fusiliers of La Corona and Ordenes Militares, so things are quietly shaping up very nicely.


Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Disappointingly Normal, Really

Can I help you...?
Quite nostalgic, really, in an off-beat kind of way. I see from this blog that the last time I dared set foot in our nearest Games Workshop was in February 2013. I have some kind of nervous illness which makes it very difficult for me to function normally in these stores, I think.

Anyway, on Wednesday of the week-before-last I was feeling a bit giddy – demob-happy? – since I had just been told I was not required after all for jury duty on what was scheduled to be a 5-day trial in the High Court. It did take them 3 days to get around to deciding this, in fact, but I now found myself with some spare time on a nice, sunny afternoon, in suitably good spirits, and within easy walking distance of the aforementioned store.

I had some misgivings, so went for a preliminary cup of coffee to settle my nerves, and there I decided that it was well within my capabilities to just walk calmly into the shop – I even took some small delight in the fact that I was wearing sports jacket, tweed cap and big knitted sweater – I might just scare the Darklings into a compliant state.


So I did it. First surprise was that it is now called Warhammer. The place was unusually quiet – there were three black-clad young men sitting around a large game in the centre of the room, and I think that they all work there – or worship there, or whatever it is. My arrival usually sparks some unrest, since the obvious conclusion is that I must be an elderly wino who has wandered in to get out of the rain. On this occasion, however, they were very polite – charming, even. The nearest young man said, “Were you looking for something?”, and I said, “I’d just like to have a look at the paint racks, if that’s OK.”

Have to admit I wasn't really looking my best
“What kind of paint?” [tricky question that – I have only an approximate idea what the various paints are called, never mind what they do – on another day I might have been unnerved enough to run out of the store]

“If I can just have a browse around….?”

No objection, so I carried on. Eventually I was asked,

“What you working on at the moment?”

Here we go. “I’m painting some units for a Spanish army – Napoleonic period – I have been building it up for a few years now.”

“Oh – right – erm, cool!” came the  answer, and that ended the discussion.

I was hip enough to know that my favoured Citadel Blood Red is now called Evil Sunz Scarlet (discuss), and I found my way around the racks without hitch, so was quite relaxed by the time I took my three chosen pots to the checkout.

Happy as a pig in wassname...
The manager (or Arch Lord, or whatever) served me at the till, and he was polite and articulate and quite a few things which took me by surprise; in particular, he was very pleasant, and not patronising at all, and his eye-contact levels were very good.

I returned to the real world with my little bag of paints, quite chuffed with my success. No complaints at all, but it is faintly disturbing to have one’s prejudices shaken like this. Is it possible that the Warhammer lot are [and I apologise for the use of the term] growing up? Are they now, in turn, threatened by some newer, younger, even spottier phenomenon? The shop was very quiet – could they have reached a point where they are forced to treat visiting winos as though they might be potential customers?

I sat on the train home, my mind filled with wondrous thoughts, and dozed off in the warm sunshine. Fortunately I live at the terminus…



Saturday, 17 October 2015

1809 Spaniards - Command Figures for Regimiento La Corona

Mixture of NapoleoN and Falcata figures - the lights show them as a bit
glossier than I intended, but they will be fine
The painting queue is shuffling along, but slowly. Last night I finished the command figures for two battalions of the Regimiento La Corona - these guys interest me because they will be (probably) my only unit dressed according to the 1802 regulations - these uniforms were still in use here and there by 1808/09, though officially they had been replaced by the better known (but less practical) 1805 white uniforms.

I have to say that (despite my paintwork) I think the 1802 version was very smart - makes me wonder why it was replaced so soon. It has been suggested to me that there was resistance to having all the line infantry dressed the same - the 1805 regs reintroduced different coloured facings. I also read somewhere that importation of indigo to dye the blue coats was a problem during the time that Spain was a French ally, since Britain had a monopoly supply. The first of these two is interesting, but I have no real basis for believing it to be true; the second seems unlikely, since the cavalry had enough blue uniforms to be problematic anyway. So I really don't know - 3 years seems a very short run for Godoy's "deep sky blue" uniforms, and I really do like them. Any further theories would be welcome.

Falcata were an odd manufacturer, some of the later products were pretty
agricultural, but this is one of the early pieces sculpted by Tomas Castaños,
and for 20mm I think this is splendid  
Falcata again - the figures were originally intended to be plastic, and you can see
it in the range of poses and some aspects of the mastering
On the bottle tops next are the command for Regimiento de Ordenes Militares - they will be in the white uniforms. Fusiliers for both units will be coming fairly soon - that's more of a factory process.

I notice from my photos that my matt varnish seems to be getting a bit shiny - better start a new bottle. It's OK, the overall effect is a light sheen rather than a hard gloss, and I like the toy soldier look. The lighting makes it look worse than it is.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Hooptedoodle #196 – Donkey Award – Rewilding


It seems Anthony Fremont is alive and well.

If you are unfamiliar with Anthony, he is the central character from Jerome Bixby’s marvellous short sci-fi story, It’s a Good Life, dating from 1953, which I read when I was about 12 and which made such a profound impression on me that I have never forgotten it.


If you haven’t read the story, you should – or if you have 50 minutes to spare a nice man can read it to you.

[Very brief spoiler – Anthony is about 4 years old, and was born with supernatural powers which allow him to control the universe and read people’s minds. In the story, his village has been physically separated (by Anthony) from the rest of the Earth – no-one knows how or where – and exists in isolation, in a nightmare world surrounded by a four-year-old’s idea of a perfect environment – anyway, you should read the story, if you haven’t.]

The relevance is that it seems to me that the spirit of Anthony lives on in many present day conservationists – they mean well, but mostly they don’t have a clue. One of the difficulties surrounding environmental topics is that it is hard to find anyone talking sense about them – most of the enthusiasts are banging a personal drum, or quoting a half-article they read in the Daily Mail, or just letting their bellies rumble. Yes, we should be concerned, but we should try to keep a sense of proportion.

It makes me nervous, for example, that discussion of endangered species seems to be distorted by what is cuddly – bush babies and giant pandas get many more votes (and are better on TV) than disappearing strains of bacteria or cockroaches. It seems unlikely that the phone-in audience, unaided, are going spontaneously to come up with a balanced formula for a new, sustainable ecological system [you can help here – join Max Foy’s adopt-a-cockroach scheme – only 15 euros will secure you your very own specimen – yours is in Sumatra, by the way – here’s a picture of it].

The amateurs are mostly harmless, since they are unlikely to have an impact beyond their own Facebook timeline, and would not have the knowledge or the influence to take any real initiative. The professionals are much more scary, since they actually believe they understand what is going on, and what we should do about it.


One such is a chap – to be perverse, let us call him Anthony – who is proposing that we should reintroduce the wolf to the Highlands of Scotland. Yes – that’s right – not some kind of obscure wildflower, but that big, hairy dog-like creature with bloody big teeth. This gentleman manages a large forest estate, so he knows what he is talking about. He and his colleagues plant a great many trees, which are extensively destroyed by herds of wild deer, multiplying out of control, and thus requiring to be culled each year to keep things in some kind of balance.

The problem is that the deer have had no natural enemies (apart from men with guns) since wolves died out in Scotland around 1700. Our hero proposes to reintroduce wolves on the estate and – bingo – we shall be back in a better age. His vision is of a fenced nature park, along African lines, in which the wolves and bears (did I forget to mention the bears?) will keep the deer under control, the forest will prosper, and visitors (don’t tell me I forgot to mention the visitors?) will be able to enjoy the Highlands as they once were.

Monument to the last wolf killed in Sutherland
Ah yes – as they once were – and this will be Anthony’s own favoured snapshot, so they will not be under several hundred metres of ice, neither will they be swimming in lava – it will be just as things might have been on, say, 24th May 1684 – or some other convenient date when there were still wolves.

As ever, I am disappointed to find that I am reverting to type and distancing myself from this grand scheme. I admit that I never was any fun at all, but I am concerned about the following:

(1) Wolves reappeared in France recently – in the 1990s – and things are not going well there – here’s a BBC article about the topic, and about our Scottish enthusiast, which sets some kind of factual context.

(2) If you were a betting man, how would you rate the chances of a fenced nature park containing the experiment indefinitely, without becoming some kind of Jurassic Park? When I used to live in Edinburgh, there were not-infrequent excitements in the Corstorphine area caused by wolves escaping from the zoo – cunning fellows, wolves – it is said that on one occasion they disguised themselves as cleaning staff.

(3) If the wolves escape (as they eventually must), how would things look for Scottish sheep farmers? – to say nothing of tourism…

(4) How did the rabbit get on in Australia, by the way?





Monday, 12 October 2015

Hooptedoodle #195 – Apologies – Yet More Nature Stuff

European Starling (sturnus vulgaris)
I am actually painting some soldiers at the moment, but progress is so slow that there’s nothing to see, as yet, so I thought I might push my luck one final time and try readers’ patience by sticking with this Nature theme of the last couple of posts (a very broad heading, since Apple Crumble was in there, somehow).

You may well have seen this YouTube clip – I am fascinated by it. Two girls went out in a canoe on the River Shannon, and they saw some starlings.


In fact they saw rather a lot of starlings, and the starlings were doing something which these days is called a murmuration, though as far as I know "murmuration" is really just a collective noun for a bunch of starlings, without any stipulation of activity. These events are spectacular – I’ve seen films of similar behaviour by a cloud of budgerigars in Australia, I’ve witnessed this kind of formation flying by starlings, and I think I’ve heard of knots and fieldfares doing the same thing. Anyway, I’m impressed. I wouldn’t like to be standing underneath them at the time, but there are some well-known locations where starlings do this sort of thing regularly – Brighton is one, I believe, also Rome, and we have a famous site fairly near here at a shopping mall car park at Gretna, in the Borders, which maybe lacks the romance of Rome, but it’s the best we can do, and you can buy a very nice sweater while you are there.

Maybe the requirement is simply a very large number of birds all doing the same thing? Looking at the shapes, it looks like a travelling probability distribution; I realise that this is a dumb thing to say, but my starting point is that the location of each individual bird within the envelope shape must be subject to some kind of probability function. I understandthat some steps have been taken to come up with mathematical models to simulate this behaviour, but success is limited to date. Of course, since I don’t have the tools or the knowledge to stand a chance of getting anywhere, I have become very interested in understanding more of what is going on! [If I succeed, I shall next attempt to fly to the sun with wings made from a Corn Flakes packet.]

Some thoughts:

(1) We see pleasing shapes caused by the forces of Nature all over the place – they are very common – clouds of water droplets in the sky, sand dunes, waves on the sea, snowflakes – you will think of better examples than these. The difference with starlings is that they are intelligent – each individual is trying to do something, not simply being blown about.

(2) Birds don’t seem to do this if they are going somewhere – when migrating, for example, they do form recognisable shapes (skeins), but not like this. Maybe, since the murmurations seem to occur at predictable times of day (at least they do at Gretna), and in particular seasons, the birds are feeding, sweeping a limited area.

(3) Though the cloud of birds looks chaotic from the outside, each bird must have a simpler view – they must be aware of their immediate neighbours, who are travelling in the same direction; apart from this they must be guided by – what? – the light?

(4) Scientists have observed that within the cloud the birds space themselves so that they are grouped not too close to their neighbours (so as not to restrict flight and manoeuvre) but not too far apart (to avoid loss of contact and the “collective” feel). This “just right” spacing is known as the “Goldilocks” distance, and it has been observed that lateral spacing is tighter than are the gaps to the birds in front and behind (which makes sense for safe manoeuvre – this sounds more like the traffic on the M25 all the time - well, maybe not the M25, but on a more sensible road).

(5) If a bird becomes aware of its neighbours turning, it can react very quickly, but the accumulated delay across a large cloud would be expected to cause the effect of elasticity and the waves which we see on the films.

(6) Early attempts at modelling the murmurations on a computer looked at what happens if the birds instinctively fly towards the centre of the cloud (the darkest area) or directly away from it (towards the brightest light); although the centre is moving, and may be moving in a different direction from any individual bird at any particular moment, it is not a surprise to learn that the models showed that in the second case the cloud would simply disintegrate as the birds at the edges flew away, and in the first case they would tend to collapse into a single point, though the Goldilocks effect would limit how far this could progress.

(7) Perhaps, then, the birds are steering towards some intermediate condition of light (and therefore cloud density) which gives optimal feeding?


You will note that I have not progressed very far with this! I do not intend to sign up for a night-school course, neither do I wish to melt my brain (more likely), but I am gently interested in how this works. Nature is wonderful – we don’t really need to understand it, neither should we necessarily expect to be able to understand it, I think – but these bird clouds look like mathematical shapes to me, and I’d be pleased to get a better handle on what’s going on - I have never been a starling, but mathematics is what I was once trained to do.


Sunday, 11 October 2015

Hooptedoodle #194a - More of the Same Sort of Thing

No new painted soldiers to show or anything, so here's another in my breathtaking series of Down on the Farm This Week posts, following on from Friday's effort - I find these are useful for keeping the number of hits down.



Around this time each year we get a fine show of these toadies - we think they grow out of rotting tree roots, but when we mow the lawn they disappear until next year. Can't eat them or anything, but there's certainly lots of them.


This is also the week for harvesting and stewing up the fetching Red Love apples - we got a few more this year - probably enough for 3 crumbles. One for tonight and two in the freezer.



Very unusually, we also got some of these in the garden this afternoon - Red-Legged Partridges. We see a lot of pheasants, but these chaps are very uncommon here. I have to explain that the only reason they are here at all this year is because the farm ghillie bought in a load of chicks, and they have just been released from the nursery pens in the last week or so. They are here so they can take their chance, along with the other game fowl, in the big shooting parties which take place on the estate here around Christmas.

Not my sort of thing - on shooting days we usually try to be somewhere else, which would also be a good strategy for a pheasant, I suppose.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Hooptedoodle #194 - More Critters

pararge aegeria, large as life
This week I have mostly been in Edinburgh, performing my civic duty as a jury member, which means I missed some new visitors here at Chateau Foy. Yesterday was - out of nowhere - calm and dry and sunny, and the garden was full of little brown butterflies.

We do well for butterflies here - there is a wood at the bottom of the garden; we don't get anything too exotic, but the variety is good - especially on a sunny day when the buddleia is in bloom (it's finished for the year now) we get Red Admirals, Peacocks, Painted Ladies, Commas and all sorts of white ones with light blue or orange piping. But we've never seen these before.


This little chap got into the Garden Room, so was a good subject for a photo or two. He's not very spectacular, but it seems he's a Speckled Wood (pararge aegeria), and the name comes from the fact that he is speckled and lives in woodland (any questions, at the back?). What is significant is that these are native to the South of England, and - though they are known to be establishing themselves further north - these are the first ones we've seen in Scotland.

There were dozens of them yesterday - it's not such a great day today, so we have only midges to look at this morning. There was a little excitement earlier, with some kind of a fight going on among the rooks on the far side of the horse field, but it was noisy rather than vicious, and things calmed down quickly.

Always pleased to make some new friends - if the Speckled Wood is a shadowy harbinger of global warming then he's welcome anyway.

*************

Very late edit:

I've seen it before, but someone sent me a link to this rather fine film of a sleeping dormouse. This dates from about 4 years ago, and if memory serves me correctly I think was originally uploaded by the Surrey Wildlife Trust - while we're on a nature break(?), this is worth a look...


Monday, 5 October 2015

Carlisle Castle



Just about a year after our last visit, we spent the weekend at the Crown, in Wetheral, Cumbria. Very pleasant – it was mostly misty and wet, so we didn’t do a lot of walking, but we had a good time, and – once again – I am pleased to record that I ate far too much.

Wetheral station
On Saturday morning we took the train into Carlisle – just one stop – the last hop of the Newcastle-Carlisle service – cheap and quick and easy. Carlisle is a significant, ancient Northern city in its own right – I saw some of it while walking through from West to East in pouring rain, three years ago, in search of Hadrian and his jobbing builders. Its cathedral is imposing, the castle has been an important garrison from Roman times (though its importance dropped off a bit in the last two centuries, since the Scots became less of a threat – discuss), it was the site of a siege during the ECW (more of this in a moment), and it is generally familiar as a big railway station on the West Coast line (the old London, Midland & Scottish route up through Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester to Scotland) and as a city with a big Post Office transmitting mast, somewhere alongside the M6 motorway.

I regret to say that I found the pedestrianised city centre to be clean and tidy, but dismal – uninspiring - I'm sure the weather didn't help. The range of shops is very poor – predictable for a provincial English town, maybe – there is no local character at all – it seems that the people of Carlisle spend their money on mobile phones, birthday cards, sweets, cheap shoes, body lotion and burgers, much like everyone else. Franchises and mediocrity – the place wasn’t even busy, for a Saturday. Astonishingly, I was unable to purchase any kind of town map or guide – drew a complete blank. The station bookshop had a visitor’s guide to New York, any amount of stuff about the Lake District, souvenirs of London (discuss) and nothing else. The manager told me that her head office refused to supply guide maps for Carlisle, and that she would be grateful if I would make a complaint. The man in the newsagents looked at me as if I had made him an indecent proposal, and shook his head. The girl in the book department in the sizeable WH Smith (which, strangely, seems to have a Post Office as part of  the upper floor) said that she’d never been asked for such a thing before, and wondered if anyone ever visited Carlisle. Hmmm.




Waterstone’s had a few books about local history, and a Nicolson’s street map, which simply gives a plan of the entire city and surrounding area, with no information. We gave up, and headed for the castle.

The castle is pretty good. It is not cheap to get in (it’s cheaper if you are a member of English Heritage), and I was a bit disappointed to learn that you must pay again to get access to the Cumbria Museum of Military Life, which belongs to the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment Museum Fund. The museum was small, but worth the extra admission charge.


View of the Captain's Tower and the gate out of the Inner Ward

View from the walls, across the Inner Ward to the massive keep

Nothing in the view to tempt the ECW garrison out, though a change
from stewed rat might appeal
The rest of the castle is dominated by a working barracks – the Outer Ward contains a number of Victorian buildings which until 1959 were the home of the Border Regt (which regiment became part of the King’s Own Royal Border Regt at that date, having been formed in 1881 from the amalgamation of the 34th (Cumberland) and 55th (Westmoreland) Regiments of Foot). The garrison buildings are currently the County HQ of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regt, whose main depot is at Preston, down the M6 a bit.

Official photo courtesy of Visit Cumbria
Beyond that, the older Inner Ward holds the tatty but pretty complete remains of what has obviously been a working castle for many centuries – this has never been anyone’s stately home, neither did it benefit from any major Victorian makeover. The old keep is remarkable – not only is it still standing, but I found myself wondering how it could ever be demolished.

Oh yes – the ECW. Carlisle was a Royalist stronghold from the beginning of the Civil wars, but was largely ignored until the King’s influence in the North was diminished by Marston Moor, after which date there was a formal siege at Carlisle from 1644 until the following year, when it surrendered. The claim that it was the longest siege of the Wars only stands up, I think, if you include the passive period from 1642 to 1644, but the actual siege was notable for the sufferings of the garrison. One Isaac Tullie, who was the teenage son of a local merchant, wrote a diary of the siege, and this very morning I have ordered a used copy from Amazon. I have to confess that my track record of reading such eyewitness accounts from the ECW is not great – I find the style of written expression of the day rather fatiguing – I have a growing collection of partly-read booklets…

Very pleasant - view of the River Eden at Wetheral, from the railway bridge


On the way home we stopped at Rothbury - I noted that we were too early for a talk on Waterloo by Capt Cavalie Mercer of the RHA, in the guise of Northumberland lawyer, historian and battlefield guide, Dr John Sadler. For those who didn't know, Rothbury is on the River Coquet, and very nice too.