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

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Hooptedoodle #228 - A Few Days Away

View of the bridge over the Dee at Chester - yes, the actual bridge by which
Charles I left the city after the Bad Day at Rowton Heath - legend has it that
they put up sheets of hide to conceal his departure - you'd think the townspeople
would have suspected something though, eh? 
We spent a few days this week in Chester and in Denbighshire - very pleasant. As part of our fitness preparation for the Alps we walked up Moel Famau, in the Clwydian Range, and of course it rained - but why would you want to walk in the Welsh hills in atypical conditions?

Once again I had a vague idea about stretching the Welsh bit of the trip to include the battlefield of Montgomery, but it was really too far for the time we had available, so I shall content myself with a tabletop game based on Montgomery in the near future (note for self). Considering the wealth of good eating and drinking places in Chester, I was a bit unlucky to get a touch of mild food poisoning on the first night, so my diet was largely bottled water and Immodium tablets for the next few days, but I survived.

We hit crazy traffic queues on the way home, on the M6, on Friday, but otherwise we had no logistical problems at all - very easy travelling. Here are a few pictures - just to give a flavour of our trip!

Bunter Sandstone - the reason why Chester is a red city, and the reason why the walls
need constant refurbishment - the stuff weathers quite rapidly. The Victorians did a
lot of improvement to the walls, which is the sort of thing the Victorians did, and
they often destroyed the real history while they were about it, but in this case
there would probably be no walls left at all if they hadn't.

The King's Tower - formerly the Phoenix Tower - from which Charles I
may or may not have been able to watch the Rowton Heath disaster unfolding

And suddenly I find someone has put me in my miniature Tey Pottery ECW
siege town - Chester's Rows - as you see, the place has had a coat of paint and a
few new businesses have opened up...

Just a brief moment of hope for us old guys, and then you realise the place has closed
down. The worst bit is the notice you can't read, which states "SORRY FOR ANY
INCONVENIENCE". Not with a bang, my friends, but a whimper.

Please take note

We called at Conwy to visit the castle, which is a phenomenal place

The lovely, peaceful town of Ruthin

Back to my siege town - here's the original of another of my Tey buildings -
this is Ruthin's Old Courthouse - now a bank

Monument to a local hero - the racing driver Tom Pryce, who was killed
in a freak accident at Kyalami in 1977

This, of course, is one of the chief reasons we were in Wales - pleasing view
of the Clwydian hills, taken from our B&B, on a farm near Pwllglas, about
4 miles from Ruthin. These are not very spectacular, really, but it's a lovely area.

Foy the Younger on top of the Jubilee Tower, at the summit of Moel Famau.
The Victorians at work again - they felt it was necessary to build a tower
on the top to make the hill up to the full 2000 feet, so that it would class as a
mountain. This, again, is the sort of thing that the Victorians did, and they
saw fit to dedicate it to Queen Victoria, as a monument to their own
victory over Nature. Bless them. Last time I climbed up here was in 1963
(I am astounded to calculate), and the tower was a heap of rubble
- it's been restored since then, though it's a bit battered.

This may not be very high, but it's a rugged old puff up to the top! 

It was raining, of course, on the hills, but we were comforted to see that it was
mostly dry and sunny in the valley below.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Hooptedoodle #227 - Bufo Bufo

The wildlife in the garden and the adjacent wood is always welcome, but things are best advised to stay in the right places. More comfortable all round.

Yesterday's irregularity was this common toad, who got into the bird bath - presumably he dropped in from the wall. He seemed quite happy, but couldn't get out again, because of the slippery glaze.

So the Contesse rescued him. What to do next with him was less obvious. My personal opinion, for what it's worth, is that you should not form any kind of attachment to things you rescue. Nature is not so benign. If we put Toadie into the woods, he would most likely be grabbed by an owl as soon as we looked away. We don't have a pond handy, so we put him on the toad-coloured bark chips under the fruit trees, and he moved off inside the wire-mesh cages which (officially) prevent the deer from nibbling the trees back to ground level. This offered some illusion of protection, so we left him to it, and trusted that he would have a long and happy life.

Meanwhile, I am relieved to say that the pheasant breeding/fighting season is now over, and Algernon and his idiot wives have left our garden and moved elsewhere. Pleased to see them go - they are very noisy, from about 4:30am to about an hour after dusk, they make a mess (apart from anything else, they left quite a few stray eggs on the paths and the lawns - never have pheasants for parents if you can avoid it) and they forced us to stop filling the bird feeders (since they would stand underneath them all day, shouting for smaller and more nimble birds to drop some titbits for them).

I'm thinking of putting a sign up - VISITORS WELCOME, BUT PLEASE STAY IN THE RIGHT PLACES. That should sort a few things out.

Friday, 22 July 2016

French Siege Train - Ramrod Enhancement

Ramrod salesmen really don't want you to know about this neat trick.
Kennington gunners in 1813 uniforms, all ready for sieges in 1810 - no wonder they are smiling.
I do have some OOP NapoleoN gunners available, but, since I need big numbers, and since the Siege Train is probably going to spend the vast majority of its time in its box, I am intending to man my French siege equipment with cheap and cheerful (and underrated, in my opinion) SHQ/Kennington crews.

I've still got one small shipment to come, but most of the figures are here, and I've cleaned them up and put them on the regulation bottletops, ready for painting. I also took the opportunity to carry out some modest conversion work, equipping half a dozen of the gunners with ramrods of a suitable size for the 24pdr behemoths.

My photo includes an unadjusted specimen, front centre, for comparison. A razor saw, a pack of needle files, a pin vice and some (accelerated!) superglue and I am a happy chappie - no doubt about it!

Separate Topic

Since today is the 204th anniversary of the Battle of Salamanca (that's Los Arapiles to you European fellows), I am feeling rash enough to do something naughty...

I'm not supposed to show anyone these, but here's a "leak" of some photos of the masters of some new Portuguese Cacadores I have commissioned (in 1/72 white metal) from Hagen Miniatures. In due course they will appear for sale on Hagen's website, but I thought I'd sneak in a quick appetiser. These are to be marketed under the Foy Figures name, to join the Portuguese Line infantry and 1809 Spanish line cavalry which are already on sale from Hagen. The website is here.

Special message to Armand (Tango01) - please do me a favour, and don't link this to TMP...

Thursday, 21 July 2016

French Siege Train - Heavy Metal

I've painted the guns for the siege train now. They are varnished, based and stored away in a new box (titled "French Siege Train" - how's that for organisation?) to wait for a small matter of 52 gunners plus (maybe) one or two senior officers.

This may be the least colourful photo of the year so far. I maintain a house tradition of 2 model guns per battery - the reasons for this are fading into obscurity, but as I recall they included:

* it is possible to field a half-battery (if you need one)

* 2 model guns have a definite front, and there is less scope for crafty spinning on the spot 

* I prefer the look of the thing (important)

* somebody (Charles Grant Sr?) recommended 2-gun batteries years ago, and I duly obeyed (even more important)

You can see here 3 batteries of Vallière-system 24pdrs (heaviest guns were the last to be converted to the Gribeauval system, since advantages of weight saving and standardised spares were less relevant - French siege train in the Peninsula had some very old guns) - models are Minifigs; 2 batteries of howitzers (different types) one lot are by Finescale Factory and the other are Hinchliffe 20mm; 2 batteries of Gribeauval 10" mortars (recently repatriated from the British and repainted - see "oops" reference in previous post) - these are also Hinch 20mm.

On the general topic of drab appearance, I was asked recently why I had adopted brown bases for siege equipment and personnel. I ignored any faint suggestion that it was not such a great idea, and explained that, since siege guns and sappers and similar people would spend most of their working time in specially-dug earthworks or sitting on (muddy) timber platforms, a nice shade of mud was felt to be appropriate for my Old School bases. At times, I confess, I have had doubts about it, but it would be a major project to change it now, so brown bases it is. Certainly, a siege battery sited on a beautiful croquet lawn, like my field artillery, would look spectacularly daft, so I'll cheerfully stick with this. However, olive green guns on a brown base are a bit dowdy, so I'll have to make sure the artillerymen get plenty of red plumes and so on, to brighten things up.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

French Siege Train - Mortar Swap!

There is a law of Nature which I've been affected by on numerous occasions in the past, though I've never fully understood it and I've never seen it written down anywhere. Perhaps it is Foy's missing Fourteenth Law.

It works like this: you wish to (say) replace a tap-washer, so you go to the hardware store and purchase a pack of the things, and you dig out the bag of tools and find that the spanner you need has been misplaced, so you go to the garage to check the bicycle tools, and while you are in there you realise that there is a new wasps' nest under the roof, so you go to find the wasp spray and you spot that a mouse has chewed through a pack of lawn seed, which is likely to attract more of its friends, so you go to find a plastic detergent jar to put the lawn seed in, and so on and so on, and you collect a growing list of upstream tasks which eventually require you to move the house 4 feet to the left before you can do anything at all. As likely as not, the tap will still be dripping tomorrow.

To my surprise, my work on the French siege train suddenly involved some work on the Allied siege train yesterday. I have recently acquired some very nice Hinchliffe 20mm French 10" mortars, and when I assembled one I realised that it looked strangely familiar - in fact my British mortar batteries are already equipped with them. Oops. This, of course, will never do, so I decided that I would sort this out before anything else happened.

Re-equipped RA mortar batteries. Yes, you're right - the gunners are Warrior
figures, over-acting as usual.
As luck would have it, that splendid fellow Old John recently sent me some S-Range Coehorn Mortars, which would be just the thing to re-equip my Royal Artillery boys. I painted up the Coehorns, re-based the crews (taking the opportunity to remove those embarrassingly redundant chaps with ramrods - 3 figures is plenty for a mortar team anyway...) and put the French mortars carefully aside for repainting and reissue in the near future. So here are the British mortar batteries - units 345 and 346 in The Catalogue, with the regulation siege equipment brown bases - ready to go back in the box.

Meanwhile the guns for the French siege train are complete and just about ready for painting, so I hope to make a start on that tonight. If I find my olive green paint has solidified then there will be a short delay while I move the house a few feet to the left.

Separate Topic

Yesterday we visited The Hirsel, near Coldstream, the ancestral seat of the Douglas-Home family, and had a very pleasant walk in the grounds. In the course of our walk, we passed the Cow Arch (pictured), which intrigues me because there was a similar one at the old (ruined) mansion house here at the estate where our farm is. As I understand it, these things were to allow the cows to cross the driveway without spattering it with unmentionables. This was practical, I guess, especially in the days when people wore more ornate finery than we do now, but - strangely - the riding horses and coach horses of the gentry were free to spatter everything in sight with impunity. This was somehow acceptable - in fact it continues to be acceptable to this day, as anyone visiting my house (on a farm with an active riding stables) will testify.

Two generations of the Foy dynasty pose beneath the ancestral Cow Arch of
the Douglas-Homes. Not a cow in sight, by the way.
If you are not familiar with the idea of something being spattered with impunity, it is not especially pleasant, particularly under the wheel-arches of your car on a hot day. Enough - I hope I have not put you off your pain au chocolat this morning.

Friday, 15 July 2016

The Activator Cometh - more tales of superglue

I have been working away at the guns for my French Peninsular War siege train, so the time was right to try out my new Glue Activator, as pictured above. I'm always a little nervous trying anything new, since I know that if it doesn't work it will almost certainly be because of my own incompetence. It's good to be kept humble, of course, but not all the time...

The idea (bear with me here) is that superglue requires to be in a thin film to cure. A spot will stick together two glass microscope slides just about instantly, but any thicker mass of the stuff takes time to harden. This is the reason why I have spent so many frustrating hours attempting to hold head grafts or arm grafts still enough, for long enough, to achieve neat joins.

Well, I read about the various activator products, and decided to invest in a couple of bottles of the one illustrated at the top. I didn't fancy the spray, which on the face of it seems wasteful - my intention was to use it straight from the bottle - I'll come back to this in a moment.

Since it was ready to go, I thought I'd give the spray a try. Not good. Possibly the spray device on my first bottle was defective, but I couldn't direct the spray accurately enough - in fact, the activator fluid also came out below the spray button, and got onto my hand. I tired of that fairly quickly, so I unscrewed the top, and used a wooden cocktail stick to apply the fluid directly to the glued joints.

The fluid smells quite volatile, and certainly it flows easily and rapidly. Because it has very low viscosity, I couldn't get a decent sized drop to form on the pointed tip of the cocktail stick, but I could get a visible droplet on the square butt end of the stick. Excellent - present the droplet to the assembled, glued joint, the activator flows right inside the joint and the glue solidifies - instantly - as you look at it.


Trunnion plate on a 25mm scale siege gun (dead centre of photo) is a little less
than ¼ inch long, which by my standards is microscopic. No problem; put a blob
of superglue on the trunnion, place the fixing plate in position, adjust position
with penknife point, apply droplet of activator. Bingo. Why haven't I tried this
stuff before?
That's more like it. Before I graduate to sticking the separate arms onto my new Portuguese infantry, I'll have to practise a bit, but I fancy that if I support the body on a blob of Blutack, present the arm (accurately) to the shoulder with my right hand and touch a drop of activator to the job with my left, I should get good results without constantly dropping everything, without swearing and without needing to grow a third hand. I am reassured. It is not everyday that a product does what you had actually hoped it would do.

I recommend this stuff - for the kind of work I'm doing, though, the spray device is useless, so borrow the cocktail sticks.  

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Death by MDF Bases - a stocktake

Sorting out the MDF bases - first find them all, then sort them, then count...
I’ve become very used to my laser-cut MDF bases now. There was a time when I would happily cut up my own bases with the trusty Stanley knife and a steel ruler, and I still do this (obviously) for any odd sizes that I need, but – however hard I try – the home-cut ones look scruffy next to the bought-in laser jobs.

As part of this move towards decent bases over recent years, I made a valiant attempt to standardise on my base sizes, to limit the confusion and make stock control easier. I’ve mentioned my base sizes before – it probably wasn’t interesting then, either, so I’ll assume I’m safe to mention them again!

When I think about it, my Napoleonic frontages come from old WRG rules. I can’t remember which rules, or which edition, but 15mm per figure for close-order infantry, 25mm for heavy cavalry and 30mm for light cavalry became rooted in tradition here, and – for obvious reasons – once the base size has been in force for a while, as long as it works OK, it’s not a great idea to change your mind about it.

So I have made a conscious effort to go for a small number of standard base sizes. I won’t go on at great length about this, but there is always a subtle pressure towards increasing the number of sizes – just one more new standard…

I use large numbers of the following (all measured in mm wide x mm deep):

50 x 45           line infantry (2 rows of 3 men) and heavy cavalry (2 figs wide)

60 x 45           light cavalry (2 wide)

25 x 45           single heavy cavalry figures

30 x 45           single light cavalry figures, also generals & staff

and then there’s

80 x 25           infantry skirmishers (open-order line of 3)

80 x 20           alternative skirmisher bases – used in mixed order units

60 x 80           field gun + crew (2 guns to a battery)

and then there are standard sizes for different kinds of unit sabots, and bases for artillery limbers, caissons, wagons, mule trains – and this is where the number of variants keeps increasing. When I started collecting siege guns and equipment, some new, more compact sizes appeared, to keep the footprint down, and because the siege pieces have smaller crews. I’m currently preparing some guns for the French Peninsular War siege train – there will be 3 batteries of 24 pdrs, 2 of howitzers and 2 (maybe 3) of mortars – I am reminded that for the big siege guns I use a base of 45 x 90, and for the mortars (apparently) I have adopted 45 x 65, which is an odd size but seems to be a bit more roomy than the existing 60 x 45. I conducted a proper stocktaking exercise (the first part of which was identifying the 4 separate boxes which contained random mixtures of fresh bases). I’m proud to say that I have now an official note of how many of each size I have and need, so an order will be going out today. I have promised myself that I am going to keep the spare bases in properly labelled boxes, so stock control will be much easier [what do you think? – do you think I’ll keep it better organised in future? – no?...].

I’m going to be working on the French siege stuff for a while – I have lots of gunners to paint up and everything. I’ll put some pictures up as and when items are finished.

For a while I had a brilliant idea that a French siege train, with appropriately nondescript colouring of the equipment, could also serve as a Spanish one, since the artillery uniforms are very similar. When I thought further about it, though, I couldn’t remember the Spanish army actually besieging anything, so this might not be a very high priority. [Please don't anyone mention Frank Sinatra and Sophia Loren.]

Over the next few nights I will be putting together 20mm scale cannon kits, so I will get a chance to try out my new superglue accelerator. This should be an exciting advance, you would think, but I find I am mostly apprehensive. Of what? I’m not sure – I think I must be worried that the accelerator will not work; I find these little disappointments loom larger as I get older…

This post is quite long enough, but I realise that I have not mentioned my ECW basing system, which is different. Only comment I might make is that I cunningly adopted 60mm square bases for both foot and horse, and this has been a great success, except that sometimes, when I am being especially honest with myself, I wish I had chosen 55mm square, which would have fitted my hex-grid tabletop just a bit better. No matter – everything is fine. I promise I am not changing anything.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Hooptedoodle #226 - New Star on the Farm

Not exactly wildlife, and not ours anyway, but there is a new foal on the farm, who is going down very well with the Saturday morning horse ladies, and is becoming a bit of a tourist attraction.

Just a couple of weeks old - this shot is taken about 30 feet from our front garden, so I guess he's a neighbour. Something of a reluctant photographer's model, since he likes to scratch his nose on a fence post, but you get the idea.

Everyone say, "aahhh!".

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Hooptedoodle #225 – The Joy of Private Euphemisms

A couple of lempules?
Long ago, when we were kids, my cousin Dave and I used to amuse ourselves by inventing our own words for things; I’m sure that most children do this. Apart from the thrill of being able to persuade ourselves that we were operating in an excitingly secretive manner – like spies, with coded messages, Dave would claim – it was interesting to study the reactions of people who were not privy to our silly little game. Dave was much better at it than I was – he gained lasting fame at his school when he was given a detention for calling one of the prefects a lempule. As far as I am aware, this particular effort has no accepted meaning at all, unlike some of his less successful inventions, but the prefect took exception to it and punished him. Since he could not bring himself to write (or spell?) the dreadful word – maybe scared that somehow he would be tainted forever by association – the prefect simply wrote in the detention book, “Insolent behaviour and abusive language”. It’s easy, isn’t it? – there are situations in which, whatever you do, it will be interpreted in the worst way possible. People will hurt their own feelings to save you the trouble. This particular lempule, by the way, went on to become Bishop of Dunwich, which just goes to prove something or other.

Some of our private vocabulary, I regret to say, accidentally turned out already to exist in the sensible world, occasionally with unfortunate consequences, and one or two of our alternative terms of abuse (such as a favourite of mine, twonker) I find are now in fairly general use. I don’t think we can claim copyright or anything – personally, I blame the Internet. We used to come up with new words – especially descriptions of people we disliked, and we would work on them – perfect them, gradually and with great precision, until they were just right – and we would laugh until we ached.

My family, and a few of my former workmates, have made extensive use over the years of “That’s nice”, as a euphemism for the worst, most contemptuous put-down imagineable. This is the art in it’s highest form; the future bishop must have realised that the description of him was not intended to be favourable – the context and (probably) the construction make it obvious. It is interesting to surmise that he maybe just assumed the word was a reference to some personal shortcoming of which he was already aware. On the other hand, no one is going to take offence at a mere, limp pleasantry, which is harmless enough, if a little soppy (or fembrous, as Dave and I used to say).

In an idle sort of way, I wondered if anyone has any favourite family or personal euphemisms of this type which they have found useful? The trick is to have an armoury of words which sound harmless, but which are full of wicked intent in the ears of those who know. I’m always on the lookout for good ones.

Late Edit...

It's off-topic, but the idea of meaningless words reminds me of of one my greatest personal heroes...

Ah yes - basic Engly Twenty Fido - remarkibold!

Friday, 1 July 2016

A Useful Bit of Nostalgia

A couple of weeks ago I bought this on eBay. It was just a whimsical rush of blood to the nostalgia gland, I guess, but I used to have one of these when I was a lad.

I hasten to add that the item was already pretty old when I had it. A great many of my boyhood outings to football matches and motor races, cycling trips and journeys to Preston with Cousin Dave to spot Ribble buses involved one of these - ideal for carrying a plastic mac, a package of pilchard sandwiches (in red, gingham greaseproof paper, borrowed from a sliced loaf), and a map in the front pocket.

It is, of course, a Mark VII gas-mask bag, dating from 1942, as issued to civilians (and the Home Guard, I think). The ones for sale on eBay are original, but new (if that makes sense), stored since the war, just in case. Oh no - it didn't come with a gas-mask - that would be silly.

If it's a fake, please don't bother to tell me - I'm quite happy with it. Apart from a pleasing nostalgia value and a kind of lowbrow utilitarian appeal, it will be a useful conversation piece if we now get endless re-runs of Dad's Army on British TV.

Anyway - there you go - it doesn't take a lot to make me happy. I'll have to see if I can get pilchards online.

Completely Separate Topic

I was intrigued by this picture from the 1920s of a social day out for a local branch of the Klu Klux Klan. It may be a fake - I have no idea, but it is an image which will stay with me for a while...