Napoleonic, WSS & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Wednesday 9 March 2016

Still in the Spares Box, with Mike and Whiskers

Whiskers developing his technique - in fact, I imagine Whiskers as rather more bald than this
Almost exactly two years ago, I scored one of my biggest-ever hauls on eBay, and bought in a load of ECW figures which came from the estate of a chap in Northern Ireland who had recently died - his entire collection, which was enormous, was sold by a local charity shop. I only bought a stack of his ECW troops - all SHQ and Tumbling Dice 20mm - but there were literally hundreds of them.

The big surprise at the time was that they had very obviously been painted up and organised to fight Montrose's campaigns - since that was exactly what I wanted them for, I had seen that there were a lot of Scottish troop types in the collection, but it wasn't until I started checking out the flags that I realised what I had.

The figures were quite nicely painted, in a very plain style, but I was a bit shocked to see that they had been heavily coated with some kind of ship's varnish - these figures were definitely intended to stand up to some severe, industrial handling, I would say. I set about identifying figures which would restore most easily, and which were of most immediate use for my Montrose project, and I did some retouching, and a great deal of applying matt varnish to tone down the finish, and rebasing, and I was pleased with the results. The episode generated a lot of very plain, rather dull Scottish and Irish soldiers, which provided a fine addition to bulk up the splendid Covenanter units which Lee Gramson had already painted up for me.

All good - I've done some Montrose things now, and intend to revisit this again soon. While I was spending a few late nights in 2014, getting these ex-eBay fellows ready for the armies, I got to know the previous owner a bit better. Of course, I have no idea who he was, but at 1 a.m. when I was preparing figures for the prescribed matt varnish I would find myself chatting to him - I called him Mike, in the absence of other suggestions.

"Well, Mike," I would say, "this one's got cat hairs stuck on the varnish as well - you should keep old Whiskers out of the painting room.." and so on. I developed a technique of loosening the cat hairs from the varnish with the tip of a penknife, and then removing them with tweezers. A strange way to spend a long evening - this is almost certainly why I started talking to Mike. As time went on, it became a house joke that I had gradually changed my mind, and that I now believed that Whiskers had done the varnishing himself - perhaps with a little guidance from Mike.

Well the horses are pretty ghastly, but they should paint up simply enough, and that
gives me the better part of two new regiments of rather understated Northern horse
Since I've recently been rooting around in the Spares Box, I found another load of the ex Mike & Whiskers ECW boys, and I realised that there are a lot more in the heap which would usefully restore in the same way. So for a couple of evenings I've been washing and debasing and removing the cat hairs. Since these figures are probably a bit worse than the ones I selected for refurbing last time, there are a lot more cat hairs - in fact I have now begun to believe that Mike did the varnishing, but that he applied the varnish with Whiskers, rather than a brush.

And oodles more artillerymen - just the job for the sieges - more than enough...
It's going OK - we are now ready for a bit of touch-up, and then the matt varnish can start. I need to paint up a few extra cavalry figures from scratch, to make up the numbers, but I hope to get a couple of additional Scottish/Northern units of horse out of this, and I will have more gunners than I will ever possibly need - certainly I will have plenty to man the forthcoming extra artillery for siege games.

Topic #2 - more pottery ornaments ready for sieges...

I previously gave a glimpse of some of my new Tey Pottery houses - this little side-project is shaping up very nicely, and I have the makings of a presentable 17th Century English town centre, such as I can lay siege to. So here's a slightly bigger glimpse...


  1. I am taken with the idea of our figures continuing to serve with another after we have gone.
    I enjoy playing with figures who have had a previous owner too and find myself remembering the person as I play/paint.

    1. I have always swerved away from the idea that my toy soldiers are likely to last longer than I am, but as time goes on I have moved through being neutral about it towards seeing something a little reassuring.

      I have many figures which were owned by someone before they came to me - for only a small proportion of these do I know who the owner was. I am particularly fond of those figures which were given as a gift - that feels more personal, somehow, and I am less likely to rush to strip and repaint in such cases.

      What does occur to me, quite often these days, is that some of my oldest miniatures have been played with and handled and pondered over by a steadily growing number of friends (and a few relatives) who are no longer with us. Some units are forever associated with particular individuals and/or events - in particular, one of my French dragoon brigades can't appear on the table without my recalling the look of amazed delight on the face of my late friend Colin H, on one of his first Napoleonic games, as a string of streaky dice rolls meant that his dragoons swept my right flank from a little row of hills and won the day.

      He was lucky, mind you...

      That was a game involving five of us, and also the evening he contributed a bottle of French red wine called "Le Clap" to the supper collective - Colin felt this was an essential thing for the French army to bring to war...

  2. Perhaps the whiskers were added on purpose - a sort of wattle and daub to strengthen the varnish?

    1. Hi Ian - possibly - the original varnish also has a rather strange organic smell - I'd rather not think what has been added to improve the recipe.

      I recall from my Hadrian's Wall pilgrimages that I read that when they were building it they used to slaughter oxen and add blood and hair to the mortar - this of course was a ritual supervised by priests, but how did they know it would make the mortar last 2000 years? Lucky guess?

  3. Is there anybody there? Knock once for yes, twice for no. Talking to your 'friend' brought to mind . . .

    "Last night I saw upon the stair,
    A little man who wasn't there,
    He wasn't there again today
    Oh, how I wish he'd go away..."


    1. I hope M & W are OK about me redoing their figures - it obviously took a lot of work and cans of varnish to get them into their current state. I'm sure it'll be all right - I've got a pile more to do if I'm up for it - there are a lot of marching foot troops in the box. Funny - I use masses of marching infantry in the Napoleonic armies, but am not quite so comfortable about their use in the ECW. Must think about this.

  4. The stuff of nightmares, not the cat hairs, imagining what happens to my lads when I'm gone.......

    1. Has anybody ever arranged for a miniature guard of honour? Would that be regarded as a little weird?

    2. Well,there was that Chinese Emperor fellow....

    3. That's true - very true - I always thought that was maybe a bit weird, though.

  5. I'm sure Mike and Moggy would be very pleased to know their troops gave a new loving home!

    1. Thanks Ray - I like to think so. There have been occasions when I've had uncharitable thoughts about the cat's contribution, but only in moments of stress, and I didn't really mean it.

      Well, maybe a little.