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


Thursday, 31 December 2015

Hooptedoodle #205 - Runner-Up Prize


This morning the doorbell rang, and there was an unexpected delivery to be signed-for. How exciting! - perfect timing, too - a surprise parcel, just as we are starting to feel a bit flat after the greedy excesses of Christmas.

Well, I have to explain that the Contesse occasionally dabbles in online competitions, and (being far smarter than the average bear), has a pretty impressive success rate - I shall not bore you with details, but I promise you would be impressed if I were to do so...

Anyway, it seems that she recently entered a sponsored competition to win an iPad, and this parcel was very obviously just such a thing.

Sadly, it wasn't - she had won a runner-up prize for said competition, which is a self-assembly, punched card doughnut stand - the main purpose of such a device is obviously to further the commercial presence of Krispy Kreme (of whom I have never heard, so it stands to reason they must be market leaders), but I can see it would be pretty useful to have a purpose-built gizmo for keeping one-dozen of KK's splendid products out of the heap of pizza boxes and Coke tins which might be expected to adorn our festive board.



Strangely, my heart is not uplifted. The stand comes without donuts, of course, and I understand that it retails for £4.45. I guess I'm not really a donut man - I feel the device will come in handy for lighting the log stove. However, I was sufficiently intrigued to look up Krispy Kreme on Google. It seems that (of course) they are a very big deal indeed, and are even capable (in the US, at least) of catering for corporate functions or weddings (have a look here). I suddenly have a wonderful vision of crowds of gargantuan rednecks at a wedding, cheering as a convoy of smart Krispy Kreme trucks delivers the high point of the big day.

Now I'm really depressed.


Tuesday, 29 December 2015

An Actual Wargame – [No-One Expected That…]



Christmas has been a bit odd this year – we’ve sort of squeezed bits of it in between other priorities. One unexpected by-product was that our dining table was no longer required for dining by Boxing Day, so I took the opportunity to set up a Napoleonic battle, and fought it solo in short sessions over two evenings.

I had a whole pile of reasons for getting the toys out; apart from merely wishing to demonstrate to myself that I still do this sort of thing occasionally, I also had the Commands & Colors:Napoleonics Expansion #5 to explore.

It is obvious, very quickly, that the C&CN#5 game enhancements are really not suitable for solo play – they look interesting for a [sensible] two-player game, but it is not easy to surprise yourself when maintaining two hands of Command and Tactician cards – in fact this may be one of the few situations where short-term memory loss would be an advantage. So I played the game using C&CN’s movement and combat rules and my own (dice-driven) activation system. Since my activation rules allow orders to be given to brigades, I had a chance to use my recently-acquired coloured wooden cubes to identify brigades and their commanders. The Expansion #5 involvement was limited to some new rules (terrain related, and also some new rules for rocket units, of which more later), and I also borrowed the general form of the Brienne scenario from the new booklet.

I have said here before that I am not a big fan of the published scenarios – mostly this is because of my solo games; the scenarios specifically give a balanced game which for a solitary gamer can produce slogging matches. I prefer an uneven game, where the skill of conducting a hopeless defence (or something) gives more of a challenge. Otherwise, a solo attempt at a balanced scenario can become an exercise in watching the chance element play itself out.

My version of Brienne was – of course – not Brienne at all. It used an elongated version of the scenario field (17 x 9 hexes) and I added some extra units – the line-up was now a Peninsular War one – Anglo-Portuguese (General Henry Clinton with the Allied 6th Division, plus the Portuguese brigade from 3rd Division, plus cavalry, plus – hallelujah! – a rocket troop) attacking a French force (General Eugene-Casimir Villatte, with a large division of French and Confederation infantry, with cavalry).

The French were installed in a fairly open, flat area which contained 4 villages (3 of which were in a cluster, within musket range of each other, and looked like an ideal position to defend) and a walled farm (which was classified as a “fortress” for the new rules), which controlled a key river ford. 10 victory points were required for a win, and there were 2 temporary VPs available for whichever side held most of the 4 village hexes at the start of each turn. If the Allies took the walled farm that would be an immediate victory – game over – didn’t look very likely.

Clinton was required to take the initiative, and his general plan was to ignore the cluster of BUAs on his right, and attempt to score enough VPs on his left to win the day. He had a few early bad breaks, including the loss of both of the brigade commanders on his left, as a result of which Plan C was required (there was no Plan B), and the game suddenly became a face-off between two linear armies, exactly the sort of slugging match I wasn’t looking for. At the end of the first evening session, I came close to abandoning the game. The Allies were now forced to attack a strong defensive position, their approach being across open ground which made heavy losses inevitable; without the scope to move reserves quickly enough to provide a game-winning local superiority, and in the absence of the whimsical trump-card possibilities of C&CN, it seemed fairly clear that the real General Clinton would have thought better of the whole deal and would have pulled back, and whistled up some heavier artillery (or some Stukas, if he had any).

Thus the game only just made it into evening 2, but in fact the second session went well – there was a lot more ebb and flow than I expected, and the result could have gone either way – Clinton just edged it, though he might well have lost if it had gone on another turn. Good game, rather to my surprise – my faith is restored.

I’ll try to explain the action in the picture captions.

General view from Allied left flank. The cluster of villages is at the far end

Rule changes allowed me to field this rather scruffy rocket troop - as far as I recall,
they've never appeared in the field before - they have taken part in the odd siege
(brown bases mean they belong in the SIEGES box). The rules worked well
enough - the rockets had sporadic successes, but at least they avoided blowing
themselves up

Villatte set up his defence of the cluster in accordance with the scenario map
- the battery in the space between two BUA's proved to be a weakness - Villatte
has the white border to his base

Garde de Paris doing some berry-picking - no flag - having lost their eagle at
Baylen, the replacement unit was never given a new one (historical fact) - Napoleon
remembered...

Anson's light cavalry on the Allied right saw an opportunity to clear their front of
their French counterparts - it was nippy while it lasted, but they succeeded

Straight out of the box, the rockets scored a direct hit, first shot, on this battery
- they did not maintain anything like this level of success

General Hulse brings up his brigade in the Allied Centre - the idea was that he would
swing left, and, with Col Palmeirim's Portuguese, he would assault the French right.
It didn't go well - Hulse's men were repulsed pretty decisively, and Hulse himself
fell, and at about the same time Paleirim was shot in the woods to the left, which
meant that activation of the entire Allied left wing became a major problem
- without a commander present with a brigade, the constituent units have to be
ordered separately

Synchronised dragoons - the 20eme, with their brigade commander, did a bit
of riding backwards and forwards on the flank, but never got involved - note the pink
brigade identifiers

Their opposite numbers - Le Marchant's British heavies, facing them, also
contributed nothing to the action

After Hulse was wounded, the French started to organise their defensive line,
and this was the point where General Clinton had grave doubts about continuing the action

A decisive moment came when the light companies from Col Hinde's brigade overran
the pesky battery at the cluster - you will observe that I use red tiddlywinks as loss markers

Gen de Bde Bouton brings up a battalion of grenadiers to dispose of Hinde's light
bobs, and to plug the gap left by the artillery's demise

More reserves - the 3rd Confederation Regt (Frankfurt) look on from the rear

Allies on the right - this really doesn't look too promising, but at least the artillery
has gone

All quiet on the Allied right - the light cavalry spent the rest of the day glaring at each other

Looking back the other way, from the Allied right, as Clinton resolves to give it his best shot

For the first time, the British musketry has cleared part of the village (though reserves
are available, Bouton was a casualty) - at the bottom of the picture, Clinton
has arrived to take charge of Hulse's leaderless troops

Villatte himself brings the Chasseurs des Montagnes up to defend the village (this
is getting pretty near the bottom of the barrel!), while Hinde and Madden
organise the Allied assault - the more battered units to the rear, as per the text book

...and the marker is spitting blood - including the (green) temporary VPs for
majority possession of the villages, the French were leading 9-6 at this point - 10 for the win... 

Once again, the firefight forced the French to vacate the village - Clinton began
to smell victory, if he could just avoid losing any more units - at least the French
no longer had the green VPs (though they could march back in and reclaim them)...

So the action came down to 3 assaults with the bayonet - on the left, Clinton led
one of Palmeirim's Portuguese battalions against a battered French unit - the
French routed immediately, and the brigadier with the blue cube was captured...

...while Col Hinde attacked one of the villages...

...and a Portuguese battalion attacked another village - this was regarded as
the least hopeful of the assaults, so was kept until last!...

...the Portuguese attack on the village was not required - Col Hinde took his
village almost unopposed with the 32nd Foot, the French legere battalion
which opposed them routed from the field, and Villatte was taken
- Allies won 11-8, but it could have gone either way at the end
Now I must try to pencil in a future evening, and invite a guest general to help me give Expansion #5 a proper try-out. 

If I don’t get back to the blog before next month, I wish everyone a happy and peaceful New Year. I'd better get the battlefield tidied away!

Friday, 25 December 2015

Hooptedoodle #204 - Christmas - The Sweater


This year I finally unwrapped the very fine Christmas Sweater I was presented with last year. You may consider that my wearing such an item is a bit of a surprise, given my normal commitment to understated style, not to mention dignity. However, things have been a bit dismal for us this Winter, so I decided that I should man up and try to spread a little festivity, however feeble, and The Sweater has already been called into service.

On Wednesday night I made a rare visit to our local folk music club - what better way to spread a little Christmas spirit? In fact the evening was sparsely attended and not awfully jovial, despite the knitwear. I got into a chat with Serious Angus, who commented that he noticed that I was wearing a seasonal jumper - there are no flies on our Angus, I can tell you. Being already fired up on the topic, I said that the thing I loved best was the CELEBRATE RESPONSIBLY bit - I feel it is hilarious that a Christmas sweater should carry a Health & Safety message; Angus explained that this was obviously because the sponsors are a brewery - I'm glad we cleared that up. However, he also explained - probably more usefully - that the mysterious Christmas horses are in fact a reference to Budweiser's famous stable of Clydesdales, which feature in their advertising.

The horses feature in the close-up detail pictures. Now I am familiar with horses - there are a great many on the farm where I live, and I paint dozens of the little beggars - but I was intrigued that the horse on the sweater pattern, if you follow it round under the arm, has a head at each end, which is certainly not a standard configuration. However, it all makes sense - when you place the sleeve into a natural position you find that the missing horse's backside is present on the sleeve. Impressive, eh? I am beginning to suspect that this garment was actually designed by someone. Excellent.



So this afternoon I think the time is right to inflict my sweater on Liberton Hospital when I go to visit my mother. I am definitely getting into the swing of this new role as Ambassador for Responsibly Sponsored Good Cheer - I do hope they appreciate my efforts. The message will also be welcomed by the constabulary, I am sure, if they stop me for a random breathalyser test on the way there.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

ECW - Guest Encore

Steve C contacted me again, with a couple of interesting pictures of extra Hinton Hunt-style figures he has converted and "mastered" himself - here we have his lowland Scots pikeman (pictured with a HH Royalist pikeman, for comparison), and a one-piece Royalist cavalryman.



Thank you, Steve!

Monday, 21 December 2015

ECW - Guest Appearance

Steve C, that noted collector, convertor and painter of Hinton Hunt figures, very kindly sent me some pictures of ECW figures in his collection, and I think they are so good that I felt I might wallow in a little reflected glory and share his photos here. I emphasise that these figures are not mine - I sincerely wish they were!





Steve describes them thus:

Royalist: four companies of the King's Lifeguard Regiment of Foote - Colonel Lord Lindsey's, Lt Colonel William Leighton's, Major Robert Markham's and a  Captain’s Company, with Charles 1st at their head . 

Parliamentarian : Earl of Essex’s  Regiment. 

All are Hinton Hunt figures with a couple of Les Higgins conversions.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Best Wishes for Christmas 2015


I'm going to be a bit busy for a while, so I thought I should take this opportunity to put in something seasonal. The illustration is from War Game, by the excellent Michael Foreman.

This is for all the people to whom I have failed to send greetings cards, and for anyone who has read my humble blog this last year, especially those who have sent comments and advice in emails - very much appreciated - thanks ever so much. You have provided me with a lot of entertainment and help, and sometimes even some comfort. A very Merry Christmas to you all.

My own list of wishes for the New Year is lengthy and not well thought out, but, since it is the Season of Good Will, could we please have just a little peace?

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Hooptedoodle #203 - Forth Road Bridge - Update


There is much traffic disruption in these parts, caused by the current closure of the Forth Road Bridge for repairs. Until sometime in January (estimated), the only way to drive between Edinburgh and Fife is:

(1) do a 50 mile detour via Kincardine, or

(2) be an emergency vehicle, or

(3) be a train

(4) .....and perhaps there is another way...?




[or if, like me, you can't get the YouTube clip to run, you should find it here]

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Hooptedoodle #202 - When Technology Goes Bad

Hmmm - one for the laboratory
As a household, we at Chateau Foy seem to have a tendency to collect gizmos - I believe I have referred to this before. Visitors are sometimes surprised to find that, in common with hospitals and the lavatories in motorway service stations, we have hands-free soap dispensers. In two bathrooms and the kitchen there are battery-powered hand-soap machines. I admit that I greeted the arrival of these things with a weary snort, since I was not certain exactly which problem they were intended to solve, but some years later they are still going strong and I have grown to like them. Well, let's say I have found that the positive hygienic aspects of not having to handle a grubby old bar of soap outweigh the occasional hassle of having to address the problem of a flat battery or an empty refill bottle with wet hands. Most surprising of all, Dettol (the purveyors of these devices) have stuck with the original design, and have not taken the obvious step of changing the shape of the refill bottles every few months, which would require replacement of the whole thing - you may know of many other manufacturers of similar gizmology who have failed to rise above commercial temptation in this way - makers of plug-in air fragrancers have famously perfected the art of planned obsolescence, for example.

I almost digressed there - anyway, well and good: the electronic handwashers are OK - chalk another one up for the gizmos, and be grateful - remember that there are people in the Third World who are so poor that they have to wash their hands without the help of such leading-edge technology. No wonder there is so much disease around.

Alas, one of our machines has developed some kind of headache. I have never really thought about how these things work, but a simple experiment has revealed in the past that, while placing a hand under the spout will produce a measured splot of liquid soap, it does not work with, say, a wooden spoon, so anyone with wooden hands is going to be at an unfair disadvantage in our house. Thus I deduce that the device uses some kind of infra-red detecting diode as a switch - as I say, I have not really thought about it, though you may be impressed that I got as far as trying the wooden spoon.

The kitchen machine is misbehaving - there have been embarrassing puddles. At first we wiped them up and did not discuss the matter. However, I have now discovered that switching off the room light activates the soap dispenser - I realised this when I turned off the lights to leave the kitchen and I could hear the idiot soap pump working. So that explains the puddles, but it is an intriguing malfunction. I have been reading about the various adventures of quantum particles of late, so I must be careful not to read too much into this - maybe I should offer a prize for the most unlikely explanation? On the face of it, the dispenser appears to be confused - not only is it activated by detecting infra-red, it has also shifted its attention to the visible spectrum, though it is the removal of the supply of photons which fires it up. It will happily sit quietly in the dark or the light, and switching the light on is met by total indifference.

I am proud to report that I have resisted the temptation to test to see if it is affected by flashlights, or by placing a bucket over the device - though if I had more time I might have, of course.

I have a faintly disappointing suspicion that a fresh battery might cure the headache - I haven't tried it - where would be the fun in fixing it? No doubt we'll fix or replace the soap machine quite soon, because (interesting or not) in its present state it is not much help.

A picture of a defective security light
Infra-red detectors seem to be temperamental - our outside security light has worked pretty well for many years, I am pleased to say - its primary purpose is to switch on a friendly light at the end of the driveway when you step out of your car - our garden is a notably dark place at night, and it would be possible to fall over all sorts of things, or even to disappear forever, without this light. The fault with the security light is that it constantly errs on the side of over-enthusiasm - in addition to welcoming human motorists, it also welcomes small animals (of which there are many), flashes of lightning, bushes waving in the wind and any vague surge in the electricity supply anywhere in the house. That's all OK - we forgive it, because it does its main job reliably and usefully.

I am still in the middle of an open-ended campaign of hospital visiting (my mum appears a lot better in the last few days, I am delighted to note - thanks to all who got in touch - though I don't think she'll be home before Christmas), so don't really have the time to fiddle around with soap dispensers, and especially not with Blogger, but I'd be interested in any proper Professor Stink theories about the deranged soap machine, and would be thrilled to hear of your own favourite gizmo failure - the greater the resultant domestic catastrophe the better.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

1809 Spaniards - A Quick Look in the Boxes

These boxes contain the 1809 section and the versatile "new" and irregular 
units which will fit with either date
Not much time for hobbies at present, but I took the opportunity to sort out my boxes of Spaniards a bit. The [Nationalist] Spanish army comes into 3 sections - (1) a specifically 1809 army, (2) an 1812 army (which includes a lot of infantry in British-style shakos, artillery in French-style uniforms and the Coraceros Españoles, none of which are suitable for the earlier OOB) and (3) a grouping of round-hatted "new" post-1808 regiments and irregulars who will fit in either line-up.

I've rearranged the figures in their boxes to try to make some sense of this - here's some pictures of the troops available for 1809 thus far (not very easy to make out the details, but they prove something exists).

Some of the 1809 infantry

I realise now that the irregular cavalry and the staff figures are still in the other
boxes - not to worry, they'll appear on a more formal occasion in the future. It
is unknown for staff figures to miss an official group photo...

The 1809-period light cavalry

More infantry - the unpainted MDF bases await the La Coroña boys, who are
on the painting bottletops (and likely to stay there until Real Life quietens down)
- quite a few flags missing thus far

This is most of the guerrilla infantry

The "new" units who can also take the field in 1809
The provisional 1809 Order of Battle (loosely based on the Battle of Ucles) is:

Vanguard Division

IR La Corona [2 Bns]*
IR Murcia [1]
IR Cantabria [1]
Converged Grenadier Bn**
1. Vols de Cataluña (light)
Bn de Campo Mayor (light)**
Provinciales de Jaen

1st Divn

IR La Reina [2 Bns]
IR Africa [2]
IR Burgos [2]
Converged Grenadier Bn
Vols de Valencia (light)**
Prov de Ciudad Real

2nd Divn

IR Ordenes Militares [2 Bns]
+3 "new" Light Bns
+5 "new" Line Bns

Reserve Divn

Guardias Reales [2 Bns]***
Guardias Walones [1]
Prov Granaderos de Andalucia**
IR Irlanda [1]
Granaderos del General**
Vols de Gerona (light)**
Prov de Cordoba

Cavalry 1

Line Regts of Principe**, España** & Montesa**
Dragones de Pavia**

Cavalry 2

Husares de Maria Luisa
Husares Españoles
Cazadores de Olivencia
Caz "Vols de España"
Gran a Cab de Fernando VII

4 Batteries of Foot Artillery (2 ready)

Pioneers & Engineers**

where * means "being painted at present"
** means "have the figures, awaiting painting"
*** means "waiting for figures"

There is also an irregular force available, of 10 small units of guerrilla infantry plus one of irregular cavalry.

There is also discussion of my purchasing a unit of lancers in round hats - may not happen.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Hooptedoodle #201 - Mrs Moore's Rice Pudding


Thirty-something years ago, in a small room off the cancer ward in a big Liverpool hospital, my grandmother – who had been unconscious for some days – was breathing her last, surrounded by her grieving family. There was a knock at the door, and a large Irish auxiliary nurse stuck her head in, wondering if Mrs Moore would care for some rice pudding.

My family has treasured this story for years, and somehow it captures something of my feelings about hospitals – they are filled with caring, earnest people – lovely, vocationally motivated people who strive to help the sick and the infirm – but somehow the sum of their efforts is hamstrung by lack of cohesion – they are defeated by the holes in the system.

This week my mother has been admitted to hospital in Edinburgh. I share this story not because I seek sympathy, nor to lay before you a personal tragedy; I have a sense of inevitable disaster – like a canoe at the top of a waterfall – however much frantic paddling we do, I fear we are going over. Mostly I am bewildered, rather than angry.

A little background – just sufficient for the journey. My mum is 90. When she was a small child she had polio. She recovered well, and she has enjoyed very robust health ever since. However, there can be a long-term issue with polio – the repairs which the body makes to the nervous system are astonishing, but they do not have the same warranty length as the original kit. Eight years ago she started to suffer progressive paralysis of her left leg and her hands. She lives on her own, and she now moves about her home with a Zimmer walker and she has a stair lift. She manages well – she enjoys her books and her memories and her Mozart CDs and (especially) her independence, and she has a daily 2-hour visit from a carer, plus whatever support the family can provide. It works, but it only just works – it would require only a small further deterioration in her mobility to render her situation untenable – a fact which is always at the front of my mind.

Last Sunday she had the second of two minor falls within a space of 10 days, but this time she hurt her knee – some kind of muscle sprain – and could not get up. She phoned me, and I went round there to find her sitting on the floor, in some pain but completely sensible and rational. I could not lift her without causing more pain and possibly further damage, so we rang the NHS 24 service. After an hour on the phone, explaining the situation to a series of listeners – starting from the beginning each time – we were sent an ambulance. The ambulance crew were wonderful – I can’t praise them highly enough.

The next step was a no-brainer – they could attempt to sit my mum back in her armchair, where she would be trapped and helpless until further notice, or they could take her to a hospital in Edinburgh, where her injuries could be checked out.

Some times on this: she fell at 11:30am, the ambulance showed up at about 15:30, she arrived in the Accident & Emergency department at around 16:30; she was examined and sent for an X-Ray, and was eventually admitted to an Orthopaedic Trauma ward at around 23:00. That’s a long day when you’re 90. This is not a complicated case – in emergency terms, she was not a high priority, but it is very obvious that the process consists mostly of hand-offs – by the end of the day I had described the incident and her medical situation to about 7 sets of people – each of whom appeared to be starting again from the beginning. Everyone is waiting – waiting for a porter, waiting for an X-Ray to come back, waiting for a doctor to be available.

The A&E doctor explained that the intention would be to check the extent of my mum’s injuries, get her leg rested and better, and set about fitting her with some kind of leg brace, which would be a big help in avoiding further falls at home.

All good. By the next morning, upstairs in Orthopaedics, her temperature was up a bit, and she appeared to be confused. The charge nurse spoke of a suspected urinary infection, which they would treat with antibiotics, and she checked with me for any known allergies.

On each of the next two days (which brings us to yesterday) Mum was even more confused and more agitated – yesterday she was having actual hallucinations. I have yet to see the same member of staff twice – each day I was told that a urine test had been sent away, and it would take two days for the results to come back. Apparently this is another urine test each day – so we are in full Groundhog Day mode. No antibiotics have been prescribed – the latest suggestion was that they might start them last night, but they’ve been saying that for a couple of days.

We are back to Mrs Moore’s rice pudding. The ward is full of friendly nurses who are kind and enthusiastic, who look after the physical needs of the patients and offer them cups of tea (even the unconscious ones), and measure vitals signs and scribble things on charts. Nobody knows anything.

More worryingly, the very junior doctors I have been able to speak to don’t know anything either. They cannot answer any question which is not covered by the particular page of notes they have open in front of them, they are evasive and – in one instance – incorrectly informed. They are waiting for some other department or some remote authority to do something, to make a decision. They don’t make decisions themselves – decisions might involve blame.

So my mother, who hurt herself, painfully but not too seriously, 4 days ago, is now becoming very ill with something which was not a problem when she was admitted. She will certainly not be getting home any time soon, and I have a very bad feeling that she has just become another faceless dementia victim, who will be expected to die and free up a hospital bed. That, I believe, is the correct procedure. It will be nobody’s fault, and no-one will know how it could have happened, and the latest urine test results will arrive back on the charge nurse’s desk two days later.

If no antibiotics have started by this evening I am seriously going to rattle someone’s teeth. Who is in charge of killing off the elderly patients in these places? – that might be the person to speak to.