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


Thursday, 29 December 2016

What a Day, What a Day!


Well, it being holiday season, and since I was allowed out for the day by the nursing staff, I took a mad turn and drove over the hills to visit that noted gentleman collector and bloggist, General Picton - a fellow I had met several times professionally between 1808 and 1815, and whose wound at Waterloo was, rather famously, somewhat worse than my own.

Fantastic. The good general is steadily building a 20mm scale diorama of Waterloo - a project which has travelled the world with him for many years. I had marvelled at his blog posts, but the experience of being in a room (well, several rooms) with his creation (well, part of it) is really something else again.

He had laid out, he estimated, rather less than one quarter of what exists at present - simply set it out on tables so that I could have a look. I also spent a fabulous hour or so being shown through some of the boxes that didn't make it onto the tables - lots of gasping over figures I've heard of but never seen, much admiring clever conversion work and gorgeous paintwork, and a great deal of head-scratching, trying to identify rare and ancient castings from the history of the hobby.

Since the winter days are short and the Scottish countryside is a little wild I could only stay for a few hours, but it was an unforgettable day out - I left with some concern over the amount of work the general would have to commit to tidying up after my tour of inspection. I can only thank him and his family for their hospitality, and for the opportunity to see and - let's get the words right here! - just to stand near his burgeoning masterpiece. I find the world of the dioramist very attractive, but the approach is very different from what I do myself, and I found my day fascinating.

Thank you, sir - terrific fun, and greatly appreciated!

My photos do little justice to the models - best to study General Picton's
own blog - but they give an idea - here's another view of the scratch-built
La Haye Sainte

You want French artillery? - no problem - this is just the limbers, wagons
and caissons, of course - the guns themselves are elsewhere






Just some of the boxes that the collection lives in - I might never have come
home again if I could have hidden in one of the boxes...


Monday, 26 December 2016

Homebrewed Flags - more 1809 Spanish

I'm doing some catching-up here, since I have a number of units who are ready for action apart from the flags. Here's another batch; strictly speaking, I've posted the La Corona flags before, but I wasn't happy with the proportions, so I've re-done them. My Cantabria regiment has only one battalion, so I've only done the coronela.


I have more cavalry and light infantry flags to get ready, so I'll get to those when the soldiers are painted. If these are any use to you, please feel free to download and use them as you wish. Usual instructions - click on the image above, right-click on the enlarged version, and download. If you print the entire image 105mm high, the individual flags will be 20mm high, which is fine for 1/72, or you can scale them up or down in proportion - these are not good enough for anything larger than 30mm, by the way! The green surround is not part of each flag - it's just there to enable you to cut a white flag out of white paper!

Use the best quality 80gsm paper you can get hold of. If you can get single-coated paper it's easier to fold and shape. More soon.

Hooptedoodle #245 - St Stephen's Day - Odds & Ends

Boxing Day.

Over the years there have been changing scripts, but it was always a going-somewhere sort of day. When We Were Very Young it was the day we visited my other Grannie for another helping of turkey, not to mention more presents. Later, as the family thinned out and people went their own ways, it remained a day for going to a show, or watching football, or just going for a cholesterol-chasing walk in the Pentlands.

Celebrating the Feast of St Stephen in Italy, where they do things properly
Recovering.

Today is going to be a quiet day, if we ignore the remains of Storm Barbara howling around the roof windows. We are pretty much tidied-up after yesterday, but there are no real commitments – I expect I’ll listen to the football later on, and I want to do some work on drawing up some more Spanish flags for the newer units in my 1809 army – I’m a bit behind on that.

So I’m up early, heading for the first coffee of the day, and all I have to offer in the blog line are a couple of lightweight stories which are going around my head – entirely, of course, for my own amusement. The only connecting themes are a loose thread of topicality and that recurrent Sod’s Law thing about best intentions. All right – I admit it – the stories have nothing in common…


First tale concerns the singer George Michael, who, sadly, died at a very early age yesterday. I was never really a fan, though I did appreciate the gentleman’s talent, and I know my wife will be upset. This story is really not about George at all, it’s about SDB, whose story it is anyway. I met SDB and his wife on holiday in Tuscany, a good few years ago. They were the most excellent fun – he was one of the most engaging, charismatic people I have met. We kept in touch for a little while afterwards, but, ultimately, I guess my first wife and I were neither rich enough, outgoing enough nor metropolitan enough to be especially interesting, so everyone moved on. Such is life.

SDB was then a director of Morton’s, the dining club in Berkeley Square. His members included a good many famous people, as it happens, and one day he was approached by one of them – George Michael, no less – to arrange a very private business luncheon meeting at the club, involving some important guests. Michael was in the process of falling out with Sony Records at the time – I don’t really know the details, but this meeting was such that there would be trouble and controversy if it became public knowledge.


Being a man of tact and discretion, an experienced helper of the rich and mysterious, SDB had a brainwave and – taking advantage of the fine weather – he decided against simply allocating a private room, and placed the luncheon party on a private balcony in the sunshine, above the gardens – probably above the nightingales, if there had been any. Perfect, except that, just as the soup arrived, an open-top tour bus full of Japanese tourists passed by, and an amplified voice announced, “Oh look, everyone – there’s George Michael!”, which was followed by a rush to the appropriate side of the bus and a mighty clicking of cameras.

So much for secrecy – SDB said that there was trouble, sure enough, and plenty of it came his way. Oh well.

Jenners
Story 2 is much less elevated – my old musician mate, Fergie (whom I also haven’t seen for years – maybe that’s the real thread), used to keep us entertained on band trips with tales of the shopping exploits of his wife. She was a devoted warrior of the Edinburgh Boxing Day Sales, and, though Fergie enjoyed the peace and quiet while she was out warrioring, he was less enthusiastic about the trophy ritual when she came back, at which point her purchases would be paraded for his delectation – an edgy procedure, since he was not encouraged to express any opinion beyond breathless admiration.

On one occasion he was unwise enough to comment on a very distinctive, red, green and white sweater in a Jenner’s bag (now there’s an Edinburgh tradition). Yes, he was told, it was reduced from £145 to only £85, so it was a particularly splendid buy.

Fergie, never knowing when to quit, stuck to his guns.

“Just a minute,” he said, “I’ve seen that sweater before – don’t you have one like that already?”

I can sense the reader flinching in anticipation. This provoked a disagreement which eventually drove him upstairs to the wardrobe for more evidence. He returned, in triumph, with another Jenner’s bag, containing an identical red, green and white sweater. The receipt was still in the bag – it had been bought in the previous year’s Boxing Day Sales, and had never been worn. Also, to cap everything, last year’s specimen had been reduced from £145 to £75.

The subsequent discussion was not especially constructive, we were led to believe, but Mrs Fergie, as ever, got in the last word as she swept out of the room.

“I may be a bit dippy at times,” she said, “but at least you can’t deny that I have consistent taste.”




Friday, 23 December 2016

Hooptedoodle #244 - Seasonal Exercise in Self-Indulgence

A week or so ago I was stopped in my tracks by a painting in one of the local high street galleries - I liked it so much that I bought it as a Christmas gift for my wife.


As I mention here frequently (ad nauseam?), the Contesse and I are both very keen on our local wildlife - she in particular is a very skilled photographer - and I knew she would love this picture. It is an original, acrylic on natural linen, by the Scottish artist, Helen Welsh. Helen is based in Perthshire, a little north of here; she worked for many years, very successfully, as an illustrator for the Dundee-based publisher, DC Thomson (no, she didn't draw the pictures in the Beano), and has now retired to concentrate on her original passion, painting Scottish wildlife.

Anyway, by any standards a piece of original art is a bit of an extravagance here at Chateau Foy, but we are very pleased with it, and I thought some of you skilled wielders of acrylics out there might appreciate it also.

Here, then, is A Hare in Winter, by Helen Welsh. Let it serve as a simple, locally-themed greeting card to all readers of the old Aspic blog - I wish everyone a happy, peaceful, comfortable Christmas, and may next year be a little less crazy than 2016 turned out. All the best!

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Hooptedoodle #243 – Dear Mummy and Daddy

Clearing out my mother’s house has now reached a greater level of detail – I am now spending more time with my head in boxes of stuff, sorting out what should be kept. I take care to have my name and address written on the soles of my shoes, in case I need to be rescued.

Paper.

My mum seems to have every postcard that she was ever sent, and a great heap of birthday cards and letters, accumulated in large manila envelopes, with not the slightest trace of classification – a trip into one of these envelopes is just a mind-numbing exercise in randomness. She certainly has no idea what’s in there, and I’m not sure if she remembers many of the people who sent them, so it’s a little complicated – though interesting in its way.

Recently I found some letters from me, written when I was very young. Mostly letters about forgotten trips, written by a child I cannot really remember having been. About the earliest of these dates from a week I spent in hospital – I had some stomach problems – certain foods made me sick, and the doctors decided that my appendix had to come out. To this day, I’m not convinced there was anything at all wrong with my appendix, but at that time the medical profession was just itching to separate kids from their tonsils, adenoids and appendices (?) at the slightest excuse.

Myrtle Street hospital, a few years after I was there
So my stay in the Liverpool Children’s Hospital, Myrtle Street, was one of the very earliest times I was separated from my mother. I have remembered some things about this episode, and more came flooding back when I saw the letter.

(1) A stout lad named Gordon, who was in the next bed – he had some horrifying sort of drain in his knee, but his main claim to fame was that he used to lend me some pretty raunchy American comics he had inherited from his big brother

(2) Ribena – aargh – they forced gallons of blackcurrant flavour squash down us – served up in aluminium mugs. Woe betide anyone who didn’t finish it. I still can’t stand the stuff.

(3) The smell of hot tar. It was fine, warm weather, and throughout my stay the City Council was pulling up the old tramlines outside in Catherine Street and Myrtle Street, and laying tarmac – a very big project. A week with an asphalt cooker outside your window is not recommended.

(4) Most exciting - we had a visit from Roy Rogers. Now then – my lifelong devotion to celebrities got off to a flying start. This is the thing I wanted to recall here.


Roy Rogers (1911-98), in case you are not old enough to have heard of him, was a very big deal at the time – children all over the world just loved him – it said so on his publicity posters. Born Len Slye in Cincinnati, he was a Western cowboy movie star, recording artist (he was, to be fair, not a bad singer if you like that sort of thing) and a complete merchandising operation – very impressive – he even had a string of restaurants named after him. Me and my mates were not too convinced about Roy. When we went to the Saturday morning cinema matinee (at the Gaumont in Allerton Road, which was a bit less rough than our local flea-pits), the cowboy films we preferred starred Lash LaRue (which sounds a bit dodgy now), Monte Hale, Rocky Lane, Tim Holt – we were definitely less keen on the more showbiz style productions starring Roy Rogers or Hopalong Flaming Cassidy – though Rogers’ movies were normally in colour, which was unusually luxurious for that market.

Roy was doing a European theatre tour at the time, and he visited Liverpool. It seems remarkable now, but this caused about as much excitement as if the Pope had come. Crowds lined the streets to greet him, and he and his trusty horse, Trigger, were accommodated at the Adelphi, which was probably Liverpool’s only worthwhile hotel at the time. It has become a matter of Merseyside folklore that Trigger had his own room, which I’ve always dismissed as celeb goss (darlings) – I assumed that Trigger had stayed in the Adelphi’s stables. However, it seems that he was installed in a room – at least the official records claim that he was. Trigger duly appeared on a balcony, to acknowledge the cheering fans below. You get the idea – these were rather dismal days, I guess, and Liverpool was pretty close to the Third World.

Roy and Trigger enter the Adelphi

Trigger signs into the hotel (surely not?), and visits his master, who was laid
low with influenza, apparently - maybe this disrupted his schedule. 
You may imagine the breathless excitement when Roy and Trigger were to visit the Children’s Hospital during my stay. The place was cleaned and then cleaned again – no comics or spare plates or anything were to be in sight – the nursing staff had their best No.1 kit on, starched and flawless, and everyone was very tense. Including me, of course – I was prepared to swallow my normal disbelief in Roy’s marketed persona, just to bask for a moment in the glamorous world of Hollywood. The word was that the Liverpool Echo would send a cameraman, and photos would be taken with the kids. How cool is that?

Well, it really turned out to be an early lesson in How Things Rarely Turn Out As You Hoped. The official party was 3 hours late. Trigger was not allowed in the hospital (probably just as well), and Rogers made a very fast pass through the wards. I had a brief, distant glimpse of a rather uninteresting-looking, hatless, middle-aged man in a pale grey business suit, who waved from the door of the ward (a ward which was about the size of a football field). So much for celebs. My contempt for the Roy Rogers brand was confirmed and reinforced – he was never forgiven.

This clip is maybe a little more like the sort of extravaganza I expected to see during the visit. Not a bad singer, but as a tough-guy cowboy hero he was a bit of a girl's blouse, wasn't he?




Wednesday, 14 December 2016

French Siege Train: More Gunners

Thanks for positive reaction to the painted SHQ siege artillerymen from last week. I quite enjoyed the "factory" process of painting up the first lot of gunners for the Siege Train, so was happy to bash on ahead this week and get the rest of them done. It went well enough (though my current favourite brush seems to be moulting), and I got them finished quite quickly.

Two batteries of howitzers and two of Gribeauval mortars, to add to the siege cannons
I have to confess to a faint unease about this little project - I'm happy to have made such good progress (eventually), but there is something about it which maybe says something about me which I don't really care for. Online, one sees all sorts of projects which are beautiful, or which make use of rare and glorious figures, or which represent the height of the figure-painter's art for us to relish. This is none of these things - it is just BIG. Having decided to do it, I have gone about it (relentlessly?) and got it finished - it's kind of industrial. Never mind - I guess it's a personal style or something.





All right then - let's have a look at what's in this box now...

...all right, that's the whole lot
That's the guns ready for the French siege train, then - I may paint a couple of water buckets or ammo chests to make the bases more interesting, and I have some officers and some digging soldiers to paint - all looking quite promising. Another major gap in the Napoleonic siege effort is I still have to obtain some of the special MDF buttresses to enable guns to stand on my Vauban walls - it's in hand - the drawings exist, I just have to meet Michael from Supreme Littleness for a coffee next week and we are back on track.

Good. I'll tidy the brushes away until after Christmas.

Separate Topic - more pottery buildings.

I have obtained a couple more buildings for my ECW town...

On the right, The Priory, Lavenham, on the left a rather odd church...
...it's flat-backed! What in model railway circles I believe we used to call
low relief - this is a church to stick in the distance, against the edge of the table. 


Thursday, 8 December 2016

French Siege Train: A Little Progress

The guns were painted up months ago, but recent diversions in the Real Life Dept have meant that the siege train has been stuck in a siding for a while.


You wish to lose a wall? a bastion, perhaps? These are the boys for you

The first batch of gunners are now painted and ready - I'm pleased with them. As ever, they are finished in my simple old toy soldier style, and the unpretentious little SHQ/Kennington crewmen are absolutely fine for purpose. These are the 3 batteries of 24pdr siege guns (old La Vallière pattern models, as is historically accurate for the French in Spain, though the purist might object to the rather later style of jacket...). The crews for the mortars and howitzers are undercoated and on the bottletops, so they should follow shortly.

The siege train also merits some senior officers to go with it, so I'll see what I can come up with.

Jean-Marie ponders - dolphins? why dolphins?

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Sieges: A Small Matter of Supplies (and Mining, Just a Bit)

I’m pleased to say that my elderly mother is now safely moved to a care home, which is the best outcome all round – it has been a very difficult and distressing time. Also, we have now sold her house, which was quicker and far easier than it might have been, so, with a bit of luck, my life should be returning to something a bit nearer a state of normality in the next few weeks.



Without  wishing to jump the gun, I thought it would be good to plan a celebratory wargame – a proper, social wargame – for the first time in ages. And it also seemed like an opportunity to try out the siege game again, after my brief but unsustained spell of progress in April. When I come to think about it, though, there is a bit of a problem. It’s all very well running a solo siege, correcting (frequently inventing) rules as I go along, and glossing over the incomplete bits (such as supply – and then there’s mining…), but playing this as an actual game with real people requires a rather more polished show. Thus I am proposing to get the rules typed up in a sensible form (sort of), and fill in the more obvious holes in the game. If some motivational soul ever points out to me that a problem is really an opportunity, my instinct is normally to give them the opportunity of removing my cup of coffee from their shirt front, but it does seem a good idea to embrace this excuse for getting the rules written up. Yes – all right – before I forget them again – quite so. Thank you.

Let’s deal with mining very quickly, and I’ll return to it in some future post. In about 2010, Clive S came up here to help out with some siege testing, and it was pretty good fun, but one thing that was clearly wrong was the effectiveness of mining. Mining was so devastatingly successful in the test game that it made us wonder why anybody ever bothered with all that tedious bombardment stuff. As I frequently do, I shelved the problem, pending some great leap of inspiration or some further research. My shelves are overloaded with things like that. 

Trouble was that my mining rules were so brilliantly clever that I had completely missed the point, and failed to check the dimensions of the problem. Clive and I had our mining parties tunnelling at speeds which would have left the machines which dug the Channel Tunnel miles behind. I will not give details of just how fast our miners could dig – it’s too embarrassing – but if such speeds had been possible then it is clear that mining would definitely have been the standard approach – in fact the whole history of fortification  (and everything else) would have been vastly different. Just put it down as a misunderstanding.


I did a fair amount of reading of late – the most useful source was a nice little booklet published by the Shire people, Siege Mines and Underground Warfare, by Kenneth Wiggins. He actually discusses digging and tunnelling techniques, but the main thing I took from all this scholarship is that miners who had no bad luck and knew what they were doing would do well to average 3 paces a day for the progress of a tunnel.

Ah – right. 3 paces a day is about 20 paces a week, which is one tenth of the way across one of my terrain hexes. This is a very small nibble indeed in one of our battlefields, and requires a whole new look at the matter. Hmmm. This also explains why mining was something of a secondary activity – though useful on its day, of course. I’ll think about this.

Just before I leave the subject of mining – does anyone know where they keep those Channel Tunnel digging machines when they are not using them? Just wondered. It doesn’t seem like the sort of thing you would throw on the back of a low-loader and off to the next job – interesting…

So – supplies.

SUPPLIES!
I am looking for some dead-easy approach to supplies which does not lead to either insanity or a crippling bookkeeping industry, yet prevents the matter being forgotten completely. My rule of thumb (it may be one of Foy’s Laws, but I can’t remember which one) is that the cleverer and more realistic you make your add-on rules (command, morale, supply, whatever), the more fiddly they become and the more likely they are to be dropped during an otherwise exciting game. In other words, if you really wish to exclude all consideration of command and activation from your wargame (for example), spend a few weeks developing the cleverest rule system the world has ever seen to cover this, and the players will just abandon it on the day. [This may have some parallels in the world of Brexit legislation, but let us not go there.]

I started off with provender – I’ll leave ammunition for the moment. Starting place, obviously, is Bruce Quarrie. Interesting, but far too much information, man. Can’t see the wood for the flipping trees. From the classic Siege of Dendermonde I picked up the useful idea of 2 lbs of bread plus 1 lb of meat per man per day. Ron Miles had a lot of detail in there about how many portions of meat you get from slaughtering a cow (1000) or a sheep (80) or even a cat (1.5), so I decided the simplest way to do this is add the whole lot together as food rations – not to worry what the recipe of the day was. The important bit is that a soldier needs 3 lbs of food a day. A magazine will contain a weight of food, and I’ll formulate some rules on how much this needs to be. As a quick aside, this is an aspect of warfare I have always studiously avoided – so I was interested to see what amounts are involved here.

My unit of strength for my ECW forces is the base – 6 figs per base for foot (200 men), 3 per base for horse (100). It occurred to me that it might be a nice additional convenience to add fodder into the food stores as well, and assume that 100 horsemen consume the same amount as 200 foot – let us stop short of whether the men can eat hay or the horses like their beef well cooked – I’m looking for the simplest-ever supply system.

This is a detailed depiction of 4 lbs of food - that's all you need to know

Thus a base of foot will require 200 x 7 x 3 lbs per week, which is, near enough, 2 tonnes, if you add in the drink. That is a lot – thus a regiment of 3 bases of foot will eat their way through 6 tonnes a week, and (by dint of my bovine assumption of equivalence) a unit of 4 bases of horse will require 8 tonnes. On the basis of no science at all, I’ll assume that an artillery unit needs 4 tonnes a week – they have few personnel but a great many draught animals.

The poor old citizenry do not get to eat as heartily as the soldiers. I’ll assume that 1 tonne will feed 500 civilians for a week. OK – that gives me a basis to get started. I’ll add a rule about rations – military and civilian personnel may get full, ¾, ½, ¼ or no rations – which will affect the health and vigour and general happiness of all parties. Oh yes – about the civilians…

In the absence of factual historical data, the population of a township or conurbation can be generated by the formula nD6 x k, where n has the following values:

Major City – 15
Provincial City – 10
Market Town – 6
Village or fortress – 3

My first assumption is that k should be 250 (I may change my mind later) – thus a market town turning up 6 4 4 3 3 1 with its 6 dice has a population of 21 x 250 = 5250.

Standard split is 50% females; for both sexes, one quarter are children and infants, one quarter old or infirm, thus one half able-bodied. Overall split then is
Females – children 12.5%, able bodied 25%, old/infirm 12.5% and the same for Males, so our market town of 5250 might yield 25% able-bodied men = 1315 approx.

Now I need to check how much you can get in a wagon, how much on a mule. I bet Bruce Quarrie has something on this…

Next I need to develop this a bit, and work out some dice algorithms for the relationship between diet and vigour, vigour and susceptibility to outbreaks of fever; I also need to work out some rules for how the effective strength of a garrison is affected by the need to police the population, and how the attitude and loyalty of the population is affected by things like food supply, sustained bombardment. Lots to think about – that’s OK, I have some more free time and a bit more spare brainpower than I had a week or two ago, so I’ll enjoy the challenge!