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

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Transpontine Again - Fighting at Stryker's

Marvellous day out yesterday - Stryker generously hosted another wargame at his country home, and I duly turned up for action, hair brushed and boots polished (or possibly vice versa). This time we were using Stryker's superb collection of Hinton Hunt figures and his own Old School rules, Muskets and Marshals. The Mysterious Goya was also present - I'm not sure if I am allowed to mention this, because of the security issue.

Any excuse to see Ian's soldiers up close is worth the trip, and Baroness Stryker produced a sumptuous lunch for us. The game was vigorous and a lot of fun. I got to command the French (I'm getting typecast, I think - could be something to do with the similarity between my nose and the French national cockade) and was rather lucky to scrape a victory - in fact, I wasn't sure I had won until I read Stryker's post, which I recommend you should peruse [click] as the authoritative summary of events.

Yet again I turned up without my proper camera, and yet again my attempts to capture moments in the day with my iPhone produced nasty, blurred results - apologies for my incompetence - I've included a few of the better of my pictures, but you should really look at Ian's (link above).

My elite voltigeurs spent much of the day bickering away with the boys from the
95th Rifles - that difference in effective range really is a bit of a problem, by the way

In a moment of misguided enthusiasm, my lancers charge the Cambridgeshire
regiment - I can duly report that the rules produced the sort of result you might have expected.
I just wondered...

Now there's smart - Stryker's lovely cuirassiers

Still trying to sort out those pesky Cambridge boys...

While, on the other flank, my Poles and Swiss make heavy weather of upsetting
the Black Watch
Most of my games of late have been on gridded tables - it was refreshing to get a change of approach. Ian's rules are not unfamiliar to me - I have fought with them before, last year, at his Grand Birthday Bash. He was good enough to take on the role of umpire yesterday, which helped greatly with the flow of the game for us trainees, and he kept feeding reserves into the game (from a hidden store) to keep things bubbling along. I enjoyed it all thoroughly - lots of colour and splendour in the uniforms, great handfuls of dice (what a treat that is!), good, traditional rule sections like saving throws and checks to rally unhappy troops, and lots of hands-on moving of soldiers (my wargames are mostly hands-off these days, because of the Higgins bayonets, but that's another story). There were lots of good moments to savour and to remember - Goya issuing commands in Dutch to his Dutch artillery, an almost unbroken run of successful Initiative Rolls for the French (which didn't quite make up for the ineptitude of my cross-eyed grand battery, which could not have hit "a coo in the erse wi' a banjo" to use an old Scots military term), and the freshly-baked Lemon Drizzle Cake which appeared during the afternoon tea break, of which the French command still speak in hushed whispers.

All in all, a most splendid day - once again, my thanks to Baron and Baroness Stryker and to Goya for their hospitality and company. On the way home, I drove into a mighty traffic jam approaching the Forth Bridge from the north side. I found that the queue was on the new roads leading to the brand new Queensferry Crossing (the "Third Forth Bridge" for those who enjoy rubbish puns), and for a wild moment I thought it might be open ahead of schedule, but of course we were all eventually diverted back on to the existing Forth Road Bridge. I hadn't thought about it before, but this may have been the last time I ever drive over the old bridge - after the new one opens, I believe the old bridge will be used for commercial and heavy traffic only. [I've been driving on the existing bridge since 1978, and I have to admit that I have never once driven across it without wondering nervously how strong it was - a concern which has become more pertinent in recent years.]

I might mention that my wife and son and I all have passes to walk over the Queensferry Crossing on Sunday, 3rd September - the weekend of the official opening. I understand that we'll walk across one way and be bussed back. This is a big deal from the security angle - we already have our barcoded official passes, complete with mugshots, and we are to carry passports. I'm confident I'll have something to say about this after the event, and on that occasion I really must try to remember my camera.

Hooptedoodle #273 - eBay - Going Cold Again

Hate it or love it, I have to admit that, without eBay and the availability of old, out-of-production wargame castings which it brought about, my own previous interest in wargaming and the collection of the paraphernalia associated with that hobby would never have been rekindled.

I'll say that again, just to emphasise the point - and the emphasis is for my own benefit, because I find this very easy to forget: without eBay, my former involvement in wargaming would have remained a closed book. The question of what else I might have done with my time and pocket money is a separate matter, strictly for discussion in the pub.

All well and good, but I have become aware of some changes in eBay - the markets have changed quite a bit, the systems and the procedures and safeguards have evolved in such a way that they now suit online dealers - people who really are doing this for a living - and my impression is that it has become harder-nosed. You have to be on your guard more, there are more tales of rip-offs.

That's only to be expected, I guess. As more and more people use eBay, the range of experiences will increase, and public appetite for tales of scams and doom and gloom will also grow. I read things and I nod, or shrug, or whatever; I experience things at first hand and I take serious note.

My experience of eBay over the last 15 years or so (I think it's about that) has been really very positive. Apart from buying and selling stuff that I've been interested in, I've also made a number of very solid friendships with people who share my areas of interest. In my case, this has mostly been miniature soldiers and military history books, and it is possible that these categories of buying and selling are dominated by older fellows who are reputable and straightforward; whatever, they seem to be less attractive to the crooks of this world. No-one, as far as I know, ever became rich quickly by buying and selling second-hand soldiers (though a few of us might feel that we have become somewhat poorer by the same process!). The dodgier bits of online auctions seem to be the mass, low-cost markets (like used clothing, for example), but also expensive stuff like computer games and technology and musical instruments - fields where enthusiasm and gullibility can outstrip caution and commonsense.

We recently sold an unused, unopened Sony PlayStation through eBay. It was a competition prize for which we had no real use, since my son's interests have moved on from such devices. The final sale was fine - the item was bought for a decent (though fair) price by a very nice fellow in Manchester, who bought it for his own son's birthday. Everyone was happy, but the risks are there to see. Two of the bidders we had cancelled their bids and pulled out during the course of this auction - something I cannot recall seeing before. In each case, remarkably, the bidder claimed to have accidentally entered the wrong amount - a justification for cancellation which is currently accepted by eBay.

Even more remarkably, each of these two bidders put in multiple bids, to cover themselves against subsequently being outbid (so they managed to enter the wrong amount several times), and each waited a few days - three days for one and four days for the other - before realising their error. We all know that what really happened was that they managed to buy one of these PlayStations elsewhere for a better price, and then cancelled the bid on our auction. Presumably this has become an accepted way of proceeding - if eBay allows it then we cannot complain - but it's outwith the spirit of eBay as I knew it, especially since other watchers and bidders (and there were quite a few) would be impacted. To me it seems, if not actually unethical, then certainly contrary to the traditions and spirit of eBay as a marketplace based on trust. If you attempt to welsh on a bid at Sotheby's, I promise you will be mightily embarrassed for your trouble.

It also became obvious that a good proportion of the people interested in our PlayStation were dealers - people who buy and sell for profit - which is fair enough. I'm glad it went to a private punter who actually wanted it - I realise that my approval is outmoded and probably irrelevant in the overall scheme of things.

Also recently, I attempted to dispose of a portion of my mother's vast library via eBay. I've bought and sold a lot of books on eBay in the past, happily and mostly fairly successfully. Whoa - not so fast. First of all, the market appears to have changed - prices for and interest in books have dropped - and most of the (relatively few) potential buyers were, in fact, dealers just looking to make a profit on resale.

I'd prefer to swerve the inevitable lectures on economics, so please give me a break if you suddenly feel such a lecture coming on - if that is the current market, then so be it. There may be all sorts of underlying trends which explain this, including demographics - oversupply generated by an ageing population with an increasing legacy of old books to unload onto a world that is possibly less interested in collecting or reading hard copy (or anything longer than a Tweet) - we will probably be forced to acknowledge the same trends in the toy soldier market one day soon. Whatever the reason, I gave up - nearly all of mother's books went to the Heart Foundation shop. It's a good cause after all (assuming the money finishes up in the right place - another topic for the pub), but the chief reason was that the effort and the minimal return of persisting via eBay, added to the hassle and the potential risks, made sale by auction impractical. I am no longer prepared to be messed around so much. Not for that kind of money, anyway.

Anyway - let's get to the point. I read in the Guardian of some poor chap who sold a guitar on eBay for well over £1000, it was paid for by Paypal and the courier delivery was signed for, but the buyer subsequently claimed that the case was empty on receipt and raised a dispute, which resulted in the Paypal payment being refunded - in these cases, it is simply a matter of the buyer's word against the seller's, and eBay and Paypal will normally find in favour of the buyer. Ah, you say, but the courier has the recipient's signature. That's not too promising either - this is only for receipt of some sort of package - damage or missing contents would not normally be discovered until later, and - maybe worst of all - if the buyer claims it is not his signature, there is not much can be done about it. There is a lot of this sort of stuff around, apparently. Worrying.

In how many ways could you be dissatisfied...?
I think I am finally convinced that my use of eBay will be firmly limited in future. I shall continue to look out for cheapish wargame items from established sellers, and I will happily continue to trade with people I know and trust, but the selling of valuable items is becoming unattractive. I can always insist on payment in cash on personal collection, of course, but since I live on the backside of the moon that is not really going to work.

I realise that my career on eBay has involved more retirals than Frank Sinatra, but I think this time I really am convinced that the game is pretty much up.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Elegance Creeps On - a little progress

Finally got the current batch of ADCs finished and based up. There is a bit of a risk with jobs which hang around - after a certain time (how long this is must vary from individual to individual, I guess) I sort of get used to the idea that they are not finished yet, and they can go into a state of limbo.

The replacement figure for Marshal Marmont [Art Miniaturen - henceforward AM]
 with his aides, who are both from Hagen
...and they leave as elegantly as they arrive

MS Foy [OOP NapoleoN casting] with his ADC [AM] 

Bertrand Clauzel with ADC [both AM]

And Antoine-Louis Popon, Baron Maucune [NapoleoN] with his new staff man [AM].
It is a source of regret to me that there are no known portraits of Maucune - I would
like to know more about the man. He was blamed (unfairly?) for the defeat at
Salamanca, and a couple of other items on his CV suggest that he may have been
very brave but more than a little dumb. It seems appropriate that my Maucune should
be flagrantly ignoring his ADC - reading and obeying orders seems to have been
something of a weak spot... 
Anyway, this is all about my new basing standard for general officers (or Leaders, as they are termed in C&C). I have a fair amount of rebasing to do, so first I have tackled the Armée de Portugal bit of my French army. Apart from the new Marshal Marmont, only the ADCs in these photos are new - the extant generals have just been rebased with their (regulation) staff allocation.

A bit of background here - my Armée de Portugal is based on Salamanca, and is represented by 3 overstrength infantry divisions (the real army had 8 understrength ones) - the cavalry allocation keeps the full establishment of 2 divisions, which suggests an over-provision of cavalry, but my cavalry are a bit weaker than the historic original.

I am unsure what to do with the cavalry division commanders - for this army, both divisions were headed up by a general de brigade, and in each case the gaffer was an ex-staff man, with no obvious cavalry background or affiliation. Accordingly, Messrs Boyer and Curto appear on my table in rather boring regulation dress - a bit lame for supposed sabreurs. I would prefer it if I had some rather more flamboyant figures to deploy - I'm working on it - but I suspect that they were not particularly interesting individuals. Pierre Boyer gained the nickname "Pierre the Cruel" because of his harsh treatment of guerrillas, and there is a nifty portrait sketch of him, with fancy braided jacket and whiskers. However, I would guess from the style of his goatee beard that this is a later picture, from his time in Algeria, where he maintained his reputation for shooting and torturing, probably generating more unrest than he cured.

Beyond that my French army continues with another force, which is a rather vague amalgam of the Armies of Catalonia, Centre and Midi - it's chief role is to fight the partidas, and give a place in the organisation to the more colourful Confederation and Italian troops, and King Joseph's own fine chaps (poor sods). I'll get to their generals shortly.

In the meantime, things are going well.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Hooptedoodle #272 - Not Much Here Either

With various disruptions caused by the continuing work of the house painter (and his frequent non-appearances) and other inconveniences, another fairly humdrum week has passed. My current batch of French ADCs is still not finished - any day now. Promise.

It occurred to me that I should trot out some routine listing of irrelevant stuff - just so you know I am still around - maybe it could be termed a miscellany. I shall limit this brief outpouring of trivia to two items - my editor will be pleased that I have restricted myself to the key house themes of Tragedy and The Social Whirl.

Topic 1 - RIP Steve.  I regret to say that Steve the Other Goldfish has passed away. Steve was never very lucky - he has had a long series of mysterious ailments, including problems with his eyes and some malfunction of his swim-bladder, and has been reputed to be on The Way Out for at least a couple of years. He got off to a bad start when he shared a fish tank with Jeff, who was much more robust and had a very bad attitude, and who spent some weeks roughing Steve up - sometimes biting him, sometimes merely knocking him about. Naturally we had to split them up, so since then we have had the dubious blessing of double maintenance, double overheads, and two separate tanks in different rooms.

Maybe, come to think of it, Steve was not so daft. He had a tank to himself, with all the fittings, and he was in a stress-free environment in which to perfect his one great talent, which was eating. However sickly he might have been, he grew far larger than we might have expected - thus, whatever problem Steve might be blighted with at any given moment, you could rely on the fact that there would be plenty of it.

He'd obviously been very unwell for the last few days, and we reached the point at which a strategic decision was required - the Contesse would place him in his little isolation tank, and we'd keep an eye on him. If he didn't buck up within a day or so, we would euthenise him - this being a politically-acceptable word, apparently, meaning snuff. [Quick aside, I am pleased, in an unfocused and probably irritating way, that "euthenise" and "euphemise" are such similar words - possibly we have the makings of an unusually pretentious and pointless joke here - I'll leave it with you.]

Right then - today's interesting field of research: how do you put your goldfish out of his misery, and still be able to live with yourself afterwards? After some online reading, our favoured suggestion was as follows (don't ever say this blog does not address the problems of real life):

(1) Add some drops of clove-oil to the water - this will put Goldie to sleep.

(2) After some minutes, add some vodka - this will kill him in his sleep. Painless. Humane.

The Contesse went off to buy the necessary supplies - we have neither of these exotic poisons in our storehouse. In passing, clove-oil is quite interesting - it has a long-held folklore role as a remedy for toothache, which as far as I'm concerned is very debatable - bollocks, in fact. Maybe killing goldfish is what it is really intended for, and the dental fallacy is just a cover story for the kids. Vodka? Hmmm. At least we can comfort ourselves that the little fellow will end his days free from toothache, and blitzed out of his tiny skull.

While she was out buying supplies, Steve, obligingly and astonishingly, did the one sensible thing he ever managed in a lifetime - he died peacefully, without assistance. Good for him. I buried him up in the woods behind the house this afternoon - without ceremony. Naturally we wish him luck on his way into the darkness, but we could hardly have laid on any celebration of his life - I'm not sure how much he noticed of it, and it was mostly dismal.

If I detect even the slightest whiff of clove-oil in my bath in the near future, I shall immediately be on my guard.

Topic 2 - Sylvia. On Saturday night I was at a birthday party - quite a big bash, really - mostly arty, cultured people - all very civilised - not my usual circles at all. While there, I bumped into Sylvia, whom I have known for over 30 years, now I come to work it out. A good egg, Sylvia, very loud and always cheerful, and eternally opinionated. Good value, in fact, though you have to cope with the fact that her conversation is mostly along the lines that her family are the wealthiest, happiest, prettiest and most successful people who ever lived. That's all OK - I think it is only right that the Sylvias of this world should be provided, to keep us humble, and to remind us of how we would like to have been, if only.

On Saturday, Sylvia was not well pleased. She is involved in a small circle of ladies who take it in turns to treat each other to cultural outings - one detects a slight edge of competition. Since it had been Sylvia's turn, she had been encouraged to get tickets for something uplifting in our local arts and music festival, which has been on recently. It was suggested that there was a very nice Italian operetta show which would be suitable, and, in a bit of a rush, she obtained very expensive tickets for it.

We may come up with any number of reasons or excuses, but it is obviously an easy mistake to make if you are short of time to check your facts; whatever, having duly turned up at the show in their concert-going finery, Sylvia and her friends now know for certain that The Rezillos are not an operetta at all, but an ageing punk band, and most definitely not to their taste. It would be mean-spirited to find this amusing, of course, but I feel that my efforts to keep a straight face and not choke on my vegetarian paella on Saturday earned me the right to enjoy a brief chortle now. In fact, I may run a bath, add some vodka, climb in and roar with [ignorant, common] laughter.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Hooptedoodle #271 - McKeown's Law of Collecting

We've discussed this stuff before, but I was rather taken by McKeown's Law, which comes in 3 parts. Though this law originates in the world of camera enthusiasts and collectors, it definitely has wider application. The picture is borrowed, shamelessly and without permission, from the excellent blog of Arnhem Jim, to set a context. If you have seen the Law before, here it is again - smile and move on.

McKeown's Law of Collecting 
1) The price of an antique or collectable is entirely dependant upon the moods of the buyer and seller at the time of the transaction.
2) If you pass up the chance to buy an item you really want, you will never have that chance again.

3) If you buy an item because you know that you will never have that chance again, a better example of the same item will be offered to you a week later for a much lower price!

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Hooptedoodle #270 - The Sock Cull

Time for another post about socks, I think. [No, no - terribly sorry, vicar - I said socks.]

Some time ago I published a lament about the state of modern socks. It was heartfelt (if that is an appropriate phrase) - I had increasing problems with shrinkage of the ribbing tops of socks, which tended to compress my lower calves (on occasions my lower legs would develop an ominous, waisted, hour-glass shape which I would prefer not to dwell upon, but you will appreciate this is far from ideal.

Bad Guys - and there's masses of them - they are GOING AWAY
The Contesse tried valiantly to obtain socks for me which were comfortable - with little success. Even when we avoided certain brands which we have grown to distrust, I regularly ended the day with sore swollen ankles and calf muscles. Ah, I hear you say - it is not the socks, it's your circulation - it is the ancient veins, the game pie, the chips, the beer, the Armagnac, the excessive salt, etc etc.

Not so. One cannot hold off the ravages of field rations and tempus fugit forever, of course, but the change is mostly in the socks themselves.  

Almost a year ago, we went on holiday to Mayrhofen, in the Zillertal, Austria. It was a good holiday anyway, but one unexpected bonus was that one day I picked up a pack of cheap socks in the Spar supermarket in the village - just off-the-shelf jobs to help out with the demands of hillwalking - and they were a revelation. If I'd fully appreciated them in time, I'd have bought a load more before we came home.

They are comfortable, they do not strangle my legs - they are terrific. They are, I believe, how I remember socks used to feel. Is it possible that Austrians just expect their socks to be comfortable? Is it possible that Mike Ash***'s crusade to to buy up reputable brands and make everything cheap and nasty has not yet reached the Tyrol? The questions, of course, are rhetorical, but one wonders.

Good Guys - the first of the "diabetic" socks [L] and one of the Austrian
cheapo pairs from SPAR [R]
Since then, a further discovery for me has been a whole new world of special comfortable socks - some of them made with bamboo fibre (which sounds faddy, but is OK), some of them marketed as "diabetic socks", which is new to me but I'm sure well known to people who need them. The Contesse has done admirable research in this field, and I am well pleased with the new arrivals.

Thus far I am still feeling my way - some of these are about £8 a pair, which is a bit steep by my usual standards, but we are discovering cheaper ones - the choice of colours is not all it might be, maybe. There are also hiking socks of the same type. Better and better.

This morning's delivery...

Just as an aside - how would you feel about marketing black socks badged "SS"?
A further shipment of the "gentle" socks arrived this morning, so I have had a quick look in the chest of drawers and have emptied out the old socks - and there are dozens of pairs. I shall reduce the stock to about 4 pairs of the conventional socks, and replace them with the new comfortable ones. Perhaps we'll recycle the rejects - they can go to any needy people who have very thin ankles, or maybe they can just go on the tip.  Either way, they are going.

That's worth a glass of wine with my supper, I think.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Replacement Marshal Marmont

Still on the regulation Tesco milk bottle top, and with his varnish still a little too shiny (it should calm down overnight), here's my new figure of Auguste Marmont, ready for basing. This is a recent Art Miniaturen figure - very nice sculpt - I can't remember who the casting was supposed to be - maybe Rapp - or it could be Berthier. Whatever, it is now Augie Marmont, one of the classic baddies of Napoleonic France. Offhand, I can only think of Bernadotte and maybe Talleyrand who would rate more boos and hisses in the Pantomime of the Emperor. [Oh, yes they would.]

Apart from having a remarkably bad day at Salamanca, and having had the sense to place the interests of his nation above those of his megalomaniac boss at the siege of Paris in 1814, Marshal Marmont fought well throughout his career, and he was also an exceptional administrator. I feel rather guilty about his compromised reputation - it is not helped by my own (MS Foy's) hatchet job on his standing as a general in my (Foy's) own history of the War in the Peninsular. No matter - history has made its judgement. This little metal version of Auguste looks confident enough. He can join his first ADC, and the second ADC will be along in a day or two.

The old Marmont figure in my collection will be recycled and will become Marshal Soult (also Art Miniaturen, the casting was always supposed to be Soult anyway), and I have something rather fancy in the way of an ADC lined up for that particular group. That will be a bit later. I attach a splendid, borrowed photo of a large figure of Marshal Soult's ADC, which has nothing at all to do with me, just to give an idea - you may imagine what my Old School attempt at painting a mounted 20mm version might be like, but you may feel free to admire my optimism...

Louis Brun de Villeret, Soult's ADC in Spain

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Hooptedoodle #269 - Captain Tolley's Creeping Crack Cure and various other topics

A lot of work going on in these parts - fortunately, most of it is being carried out by an excellent Australian chap named Luke, who is almost certainly the best house painter around here. Some of the more tactical, fiddling-about work, though, falls to me.

Luke the Painter
As often happens, we had a small accident which has made things a bit worse than they might have been. As part of this mighty painting project, I have agreed with St Luke that he will also take on a couple of inside jobs, so he has something else to get on with if it rains. Sorry - that should have said when it rains. One of these jobs is the downstairs toilet/shower room, which will probably need to be out of action for a few days while it gets sorted out. During the lead-up to this, of course, we managed to break the mounting for the shower-screen in the upstairs bathroom (i.e. the one which will not be out of action during the painting), so it has become necessary for me, moi, Comte Maximilien S Foy, former General de Division and military hero of the First Empire and subsequent leader of the liberal opposition in France, to apply my many years of experience to installing a new shower screen.

As long as you double-check that everything fits nicely, and check for snags before you hit them, this is not a formidable undertaking, and I am pleased to say that the job has gone well. Shower screens, however, involve the dreaded silicone sealing mastic, which is right up there with Nitromors on my personal list of pet hates.

While I was poking about in the garage, falling over gardening tools, and wondering whether my existing tube of bath sealant would have solidified (it had), and whether the white spirit would be filed away with the weedkillers or the things for washing the car (do you have a garage like this?), I came across this faint blast from the past. It might be just the thing, I reasoned, to prevent water seeping into the fine joint line between the screen and its supporting stand.

Chortle now - thank you
That must be worth a chortle, surely? The Contesse thought it was funny enough to feature on her personal Facebook account, which must be a very positive indicator. I have this stuff in store because once - many years ago - I spent a fair amount of money on getting my old Land Rover 90 repaired and smartened up, and when it came back I was disappointed to find that the windscreen still leaked. This is stupid - I realise this - it is like choosing to live in Scotland and then finding fault with the weather; however, I tried various products and gizmos to eliminate the leak, not realising that a Land Rover 90 without a leaky windscreen is a fake.

Horace the leaky Land Rover 90 - this is what Defenders were called before
they were Defenders - on account of the 90-inch wheelbase. Photo taken circa
Autumn 2004, when his days were numbered.
Captain Tolley's magic brew did not eliminate my problem, but after a quick succession of further mechanical problems I solved all my difficulties with the LR90 by selling it and buying a modern Mitsubishi. Sorry about that - it's painful but true. If you have an old Land Rover and you love it, then you have my respect and my undying sympathy. I never looked back. My banker was grateful too.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Lancelot? - 1000 and still rambling

The flow of finished staff officers is merely a dribble at present - Chateau Foy is being painted on a grand scale, so there are more rollers in evidence than No.1 brushes. This is all good - we now realise that our lovely white house had acquired a definite shade of pale green.

However, here's one new arrival. This is the first of the figures for the new-format "Marshal Marmont" command stand - the castings are from Hagen - the rider is from a useful pack of assorted ADCs and the horse, I believe, is a Turkish Crimean horse, but it is fine. It is a well known fact [bluff] that French ADCs were much given to Turkish military fashion - or was it Egyptian? Whatever - it's fine.

This is one of Marmont's aides - he might be 2nd Lt Lancelot-Meunier, of the 15e Chasseurs (sadly I do not know his first name), who was on Marmont's personal staff at Los Arapiles - he adds a bit more colour and variety to the army. It is not inappropriate to have a Lancelot in my Peninsular War collection - the brigade commander for King Joseph's Guard is a General Merlin, after all, and the British Big Boss is a bloke named Arthur, so it all fits together nicely.

Lancelot's companions will be along shortly - they are undercoated and ready for their treatment.

I am surprised to learn that this is my 1000th post on this blog. For anyone who reads this stuff on any kind of regular basis, I can only offer my sincere thanks and my sympathy - I really didn't expect to have this much to say. As a monument to self-indulgence and rambling verbosity it is not without significance, I guess. As my late cousin used to say, "I hadn't realised you could pile it so high". Back in the beginning, the blog was described as "discursive" - a term which was maybe not without a faint pejorative resonance.

Spot on!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Staff Department - Interim Report

With a couple of Real Life interruptions, my recent run of French staff figures coming off the painting production line has slowed to something of a stagger, but I'm getting organised again today.

Some of the figures waiting to be painted. These are all Art Miniaturen and
Hagen, I think. You really can't get these French chaps to form an orderly queue.
There are quite a lot of figures to paint, so some kind of order in the queue is needed, and also I have some research to carry out to check on uniform details and so on. The new House Standing Order, I remind myself (and anyone else who is interested), is that Brigade Commanders are to be based on their own (on a 30x45mm base), Division Commanders are now to be upgraded to a group of 2 (the man himself plus an ADC, on one of the 50x50 bases which were previously the correct issue for Army Commanders) and Army Commanders are to be based with 2 support staff on a new size base - 60x60 - which is really not completely new here but is borrowed from my ECW army system (I have dozens of spare bases this size).

The next things to pick off, then, are some ADCs for 3 of the Division Commanders of my Armée de Portugal (Messrs Foy, Clauzel and Maucune, who will have to be rebased accordingly, with maybe a slight cosmetic makeover), and a replacement for my current Marshal Marmont, complete with a couple of new ADCs for him. The present Marmont will reappear later as a Division Commander, identity to be confirmed - all I need to do for that is change the border colour on the base (blue to white, in fact) and allocate a new catalogue number.

One associated task will be to replace some of my old S-Range French generals with more modern castings - these will mostly be NapoleoN, Art Miniaturen and Hagen figures. This is not because of any unfair prejudice against the older figures - they will certainly stay around to fill in any odd staff jobs that crop up - but the new support staff are from these makers, and the more modern sculpts do not make a comfortable group with S-Rangers - something about conflicting visions of the human form, I think, but my past experiments of putting a mixture of Old School and more modern 20mm figures into combined personality groups have not been wonderfully successful. Anyway, it's something else to think about.

Suitably demure figures for the new Marmont and his chums. No, they are not drunk - I
am having a lot of trouble getting BluTack to keep still - it seems to creep about and change shape
in the night.
Unusually, I think, I am something of a fan of Auguste Marmont, a character the mention of whose name normally produces abusive hostility. Let us not get into that - as resident commander of a large portion of my French Peninsular War army he deserves a little respect - in this house at least. From what I have read, Marmont liked things done by the book - I do not expect too much overdressing by the ADCs in his army, and the casting chosen for the new version of the man himself does not have furry shabraques or anything. All very calm and proper. [Digression Alert: Marmont, as I recall, decided to cut down on the waste and the self-indulgence in his new command in Spain, and one measure was a drastic reduction in the number of personal transport animals allowed for officers - the spare horses thus released were promptly drafted to help out with the terrible shortage of dragoon mounts. One interesting theory concerning the poor performance of Boyer's dragoon division at Salamanca is that a proportion of the horses had not been fully combat trained, and panicked under fire. Feel free to mock or take notes, as you wish.]

If I am to paint up two completely fresh ADCs for the Marshal, I reckoned it would be a nice touch if they were approximately correct in dress. One immediate source for checking this stuff is the biography of Captain Parquin, who was attached to the bodyguard of Marshal Marmont at the time of Salamanca. Parquin is noted for his love of a good story, and a good few fibs creep into accounts of what he saw and whom he spoke to (and what was said, for that matter), but there are a lot of precious gems in there. Having unscrambled Parquin's recollection of the spelling of the names, I sat down with my Martinien volume of officer casualties (plus a slightly clunky but invaluable Windows database system of the same material produced by a French genealogy firm) and various other odds and ends (notably Google), and found that Marmont's ADC's in Summer 1812 included Col. Richement, Capt. Fabvier, Lt. Périgault de la Chaix (possibly seconded from 118e Ligne, which was in Bonet's Divn) and Lt. Lancelot-Meunier (who appears to be from the 15e Chasseurs à Cheval) - there may have been others, obviously, but this will do to be going on with. Fabvier was unfortunate enough to be sent to carry news of the Salamanca catastrophe to Napoleon in Russia, where he arrived just in time to be wounded at Borodino - lucky white heather, anyone?

One snag I have is that the available ADC figures (and I have quite a wide choice) invariably have subaltern's epaulettes, so Marmont will have two sous-lieutenants at his beck and call. One will be in dead straight ADC regulation dress, the other - hmmm - the other might just be a Chasseurs à Cheval officer - we'll see how it goes.

More of this soon, I hope.

In passing, I must once again express my enthusiasm for Robert Burnham's wonderful book about the French cavalry in Spain, Charging against Wellington, which is the most fantastic collection of data and narrative - one of my favourite books about the period - I can get lost in that for hours, sometimes days. Yesterday I was checking out just why the 20e Chasseurs were in Spain (Parquin's unit) - it seems they contributed a couple of squadrons to the 2nd Provisional Cavalry Regt (for a while brigaded under that formidable head-banger Fournier-Sarlovèze - famed as the original of the crazed Harvey Keitel character in The Duellists). While reminding myself of this, of course, I was distracted in all sorts of directions - this book is lethal.

If you don't have it, and are interested in the nuts and bolts of who and what the French cavalry were in Spain, and in everything they did, you can pick up used copies of this book at very cheap prices. I have no vested interested in this, by the way, so don't tell them I sent you.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

More French Command - on a run now...

And here are some more. This is the missing artillery command stand - they can also be in charge of the French Siege Train if and when it gets out of the box. The standing figures are from TM1815's set TM-F0002 - French Staff Officers - which are available online from Hagen; the mounted chap is Hinton Hunt FN224, because I have a couple of spares, because it's a figure for which I have a long-standing affection and to get the Old School brownie points score up a bit.

Pleased with these - I'm still not quite sure what artillery commanders do in a wargame, but they can stand around and look smart, I guess. You will observe that they are based on one of my new-house-standard 50x50 jobs (which, strictly speaking, is the size for a Division Commander) and they have the regulation black border, which is used for artillery, engineering and logistics command stands.

Those French ADCs are fun to paint. I must say I do enjoy painting these odd command figures - they don't numb the brain to the same extent as, say, two dozen identical fusiliers.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

New Faith in the Clean Spirit?

After 3 weeks in the Clean Spirit jar, my Qualiticast French command figures had come up very nicely, thank you, so a couple of evenings of brushwork later I have put them back on their little scenic baseboard. There is still some artistic touching-up required on the basing, but here is the new French HQ - it's been a long time coming - I must have bought these figures on eBay five or six years ago.

All freshly painted - apparently invigorated by 3 weeks in the magic stripper.
In the middle distance, young Jean-Aristide gets his instructions from the
Adjudant-Commandant, while his elders and betters appear to be unsure
exactly where the enemy might be. The duty guard from the 3rd Hussars
are probably bored stiff.
I have quite a few new staff figures to paint up, so that will keep me busy, but I shall also set up a trial jar of Simple Green. No need for hurry, but let's get on with it. I have some pre-owned Les Higgins Frenchmen who will appreciate the experience, I'm sure.

Latest off-the-wall suggestions for stripping model paints are Coca Cola (which I've heard before) and tomato ketchup (which is a new one on me). At the moment I'm happy with the Clean Spirit test results, now I'll set up a Simple Green batch - that's enough excitement for this month.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Red Tiddlywink of Courage

I've had an interesting exchange of emails with Hedley, who lives in New Zealand, about my use of casualty markers, or loss markers, or whatever you may choose to call them (I am a bit inconsistent myself).

It is evident from photos of my wargames that the look of the thing is rather compromised by the presence of bright red tiddlywinks, which Hedley thought was not necessarily an enhancement. I have written here about this topic before, but Hedley thinks it's interesting, so maybe there is some mileage in setting out my thoughts (my current thoughts, that is - they will doubtless evolve further) on ways of keeping track of the state of our wargame units.

This is one of those areas where it becomes evident that everyone likes what he likes - that we play our games in ways that suit us, and that one man's no-brainer of a solution is another man's pet hate. If I say something here that you disagree with, by the way, that's not a problem - please do not feel the need to write and tell me what a cretin I am. Recently I have been on the receiving end of some silly invective concerning my fondness for the Accursed Hexagon; it seems only fair if I respond by saying that I also have developed a very strong dislike of a few things - order sheets and roster cards are high on the list. They do not work for me - they create mess and they distract attention away from the action on the tabletop. They are simply methods of recording more information, and I understand why they are used, but I find them a mighty turn-off. If I read a set of rules and become aware of an expectation that I am going to write down orders for each unit, each turn, then I shall put the rule book back where I found it. Similarly, I find that unit cards (such as in the Perfect Captain rules, which otherwise seem very satisfactory) are a fussy sort of add-on, to solve game problems that could be handled in other ways.

Let us not get into any boardgames vs miniatures debate - these discussions invariably become religious - but it would be silly to disregard one of the obvious differences. The miniatures player has an advantage in that a lot of the information needed is apparent from the models themselves - we can recognise the type of unit from the uniform and weaponry, and it is convenient to use the size of the unit - the number of figures remaining, if you approach the matter in that way - as an indication of effectiveness. This is a very flexible variant of those numbers in the corners of your boardgame counters; with some thought, the unit on the tabletop can record enough information to allow the game to be fought without off-line devices - yes, that's right - we've all been doing this for years.

Many years ago, I started basing my units up as per the Wesencraft model - normally figures were based in multiples of three, with one of the threes split onto a two and a one, to allow "change" of odd casualties. As time passed, I moved toward larger groups - these days my infantry battalions mostly comprise 4 bases of 6 figures (in two rows). I found it much more convenient to abandon the "small change" idea - I either calculate casualties to the nearer whole base or else use a miniature die to record the odd losses. It's a trade-off. Certainly, I have used 6-man bases for a good few years now, and have never considered changing back, so I guess that - for me - it works.

Having reduced the labour required to remove casualties, the next step was to abandon the removal of casualties altogether, and - once again - I have no immediate intention to change back again. I now use markers to denote losses - I could use rather more subtle markers, but my current cheap-and-cheerful red tiddlywinks do the job, and are visible from across the table. These, I think, are the arguments that brought me to stop removing casualties:

(1) Handling - many of my figures are old and fragile (Les Higgins and Garrison - this mostly means you); on the other hand, some are new and even more fragile (Falcata, Art Miniaturen, NapoleoN, Hagen - this means you). As my eyesight becomes less precise, as my fingers gradually turn into horses' hooves and as my anxious nature seeks new and more obscure things to worry about, I find that the fear of damaging my soldiers has become a serious issue. They are now handled almost exclusively by their bases, and for the less tactically-detailed rulesets they are attached by magnets to rigid sabots. This may seem neurotic, but it is important to me. The less handling the better.

(2) Efficiency (and mess) - Casualties during a miniatures battle, whether removed singly or in large clumps, will gradually take over all the horizontal surfaces in the room (two separate rooms, in my case). Sorting the figures back into organised units before storing them away is a massive contributor to put-away time, and provides extra exposure to the Handling hazard (see (1) above), particularly if the hour is late and the wine is finished.

(3) Proportionality, and the Nature of Casualties [what?] - my take on this is that if a unit is worth (say) 4 to start with (bases, Combat Points, potatoes...) and loses 1 then it does not follow that 25% of the men present just got shot. What it does mean is that the unit is now only about 75% as effective as it was initially - whether the difference is explained by actual physical casualties, or fatigue, or plain old loss of interest is almost immaterial from the general's viewpoint. This came home to me most forcibly when I started working with rules for the English Civil War, which was my first exposure to non-homogeneous regiments. In a unit which consists of 3 bases - say 2 of muskets and 1 of pikes - if you lose a base, which one is it? Further to the point, if the unit has become 2/3 of what it was, what is it now? Well, I reckoned the easiest way to do this was to leave all the original bases in play (so you can see what it was, what mix of subunits it had, how big it was) and just place the red markers to show losses. That gives you a more complete picture. It's also very difficult to represent different formations when you only have 1 base left!

That's about it. That's what prompted me to move in this direction, and thus far - apart from the appearance thing - I have no reason at all to believe I made a mistake. I have a background project somewhere to develop an assorted stock of flat (MDF?) painted casualty markers - which might be interesting, but it would take some work to get this operational, they would probably not be as visible as the red plastic, and there is a slightly undignified whiff of the floating chalk outline scene from Naked Gun.

For the time being, the tiddlywinks have it.