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

Thursday, 15 June 2017

This and That

I guess this post is mostly about OCD, and maybe ineptitude - both topics on which I might claim a small amount of expertise.

Topic 1: The Catalogue

Recently, in relaxed conversation, Stryker, having had the mixed pleasure of inspecting my Soldier Cupboard (in semi-darkness, on his knees - it's an architecture thing), asked, as one might, how many units there were in my armies. An innocent enough question, quite appropriate in the context.

The Cupboard - current state; these days it contains only the French and
Anglo-Portuguese cavalry and infantry...
I answered, correctly, that I really didn't know, which surprised him a little, and then the conversation moved on. Afterwards, I found I was actually slightly concerned that I didn't know. Firstly, there is a faint whiff of schoolboy bravado in the implication that I have so many units that I don't know how many there are - I wouldn't like to give that impression - that's a bit like claiming not to know how many yachts one owns. More worryingly, I felt it was more than a little odd that I didn't know - I should know, really, shouldn't I? If I were in control of this silly obsessive hobby thing then I would know.

Now I do maintain a very detailed catalogue of my armies - which unit is which, what all the figure castings are (including known conversions), where they came from, who painted them - all that. I get a lot of value out of that, but one surprising omission is the date when they arrived - I wish I had thought of recording that, but I could probably reconstruct most of that information if I were pressed - at least approximately. Have you ever been approximately pressed, by the way? - no matter.

...everything else is in boxes - the pink boxes are ECW, the remainder are
the rest of the Peninsular War stuff.
The Catalogue is in a dirty great Word table, with hyperlinks to photographs of all the units. Being a table, though, it doesn't lend itself well to proper statistical analysis. So after I had thought about it for a little while I set about linking a spreadsheet to my Catalogue tables, and - of course - the spreadsheet very readily coughed up the numbers. As is always the case with worthy, obsessive jobs like this, after I had studied the numbers and thought about them, I was at a loss what to do with the information.

One obvious thing to do was to send it to Stryker - that'll teach him - but it also occurred to me that I could post it on the blog too; not so much because I think you'll be interested, or even remotely impressed, but because the blog in some ways is a sort of confessional - forgive me, Father, for I have far too many soldiers - in fact I have now quantified how many I have. If you can give me some pointers towards an official algorithm, Father, I could add a column to my spreadsheet giving the appropriate number of Hail Marys.

Situation as at 11:00, 14th June 2017...
Anyway, I'm pleased I have the thing under better control - well, not under control, maybe, but at least more accurately measured. I feel better for it. Cleaner.

Now I'd better have a look at doing one for the ECW, and all the Napoleonic transport items...

Topic 2: The Plastic Forest

This is really just a fleeting mention - I seem to have accumulated what must be one of the world's largest collections of Merit fir trees - the little plastic jobs for HO railways, out of production since about 1970. I didn't set out to achieve this, but people kept selling them on eBay (I guess railway modellers must be dying off too?). In its way it is a fine thing, and I am increasingly concerned about storing and looking after these little trees, because they are very old and fragile, and the plastic is rotting - they are very like me, in fact. I have a new solution to the storage, which I shall share with you when it is ready. You will be impressed - you may not wish to copy it, but you will be relieved to learn that someone else is as weird as this.

Anyway - more soon. Oh - and, yes, I do know how many fir trees I have, but I'm not saying.

Topic 3: Plonk

I do enjoy a glass of wine now and then. My wife drinks almost no alcohol these days, so opening a bottle of wine means either:

(a) I drink the whole bottle, which is not a great idea, or

(b) I try to recork it and make the bottle last a few days, which - let's be honest here - doesn't work very well - the stuff really doesn't keep, despite all the patent air-pumps and sealing stoppers we have accumulated - or

(c) I can drink some of the bottle, and then pour the remainder down the sink, which is maybe the worst idea of the lot.

Recently, someone jokingly suggested that I should buy wine that I didn't like, so that I wouldn't feel bad about wasting it. As is often the case, there is a germ of commonsense in that daft thought.

What I have been doing for a year or two now is buying a box of wine. You can have a single glass, and it will still be drinkable for a week or two. OK - that's a working solution (the issue of sticking to a single glass is important, but a separate problem). However, on the general subject of wine...

There are some excellent wines available now - I don't know how Brexit might affect that, but at the moment our local supermarket has some splendid wine. I find that I am having to be a bit choosey - this comes down to personal taste, of course, and my taste is no better than anyone else's, but it's me I'm making the choices for. A large proportion of the good wine on sale comes from the sunny countries of the world - Australia, Chile, California, South Africa and so on; it's good stuff, much of it, and its ancestry is from the classic vintners of Old Europe, but it is often too strong for me now. Too much sunshine? I can buy an excellent 3 litre pack of Australian Shiraz for about £15 - super stuff - but too serious, too fiery, too intense - I can't casually sip a glass of this (13.5% alcohol by volume) while reading or watching a film - too much Marmite in the taste, too many headaches.

I find I'm moving down-market a bit. Nothing new - I always used to like French Table Red - Chateau Plonko - vin ordinaire - you can't buy it now, as far as I can tell. No demand, I guess. I prefer simple red wines - Tesco do a good Sicilian red which is not too beefy, I like Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Corbières - things which are soft and friendly.

Quick digression. I was listening to the radio a week or two ago, and there was a chap on from the British wine-growers' association. I might have overlooked that there was such a thing as a British wine industry, but it seems they have been having a tricky year. The mild, wet winter produced brisk budding activity early on, and then the frosts of April did a lot of damage. I made a mental note that there was a British wine industry capable of being damaged, and promptly forgot about it.

Last week, in Tesco, I spotted a box of British wine! Never seen one of those before. It was very cheap, 8% strength and described as "refreshingly fruity". It is a poor life that does not extend to a little research, so I bought a box - I expected little and - as you expected - that's what I got.

The box suggests they have the neck to sell this stuff in bottles, too.
The stuff is awful. It tastes like a cross between Ribena and boot polish, to be honest. I could, I suppose, grin and bear it in a spirit of Good Old Patriotism, but the final straw is it isn't actually British. The box says that it is made from imported grape juice. Good grief. My dad used to produce home-made wine like that years ago, and it was all crap and it all tasted mostly of sulphites. A long and honourable tradition, then, of putting a brave face on things. Personally, I feel I humoured my dad for quite long enough, I want no more of this. I mention this only as a gentle warning - if Brexit requires you to change your drinking habits, don't be tempted to change in this direction, lest you, too, get to rinse out your kitchen drains with it. 

The small print.


  1. Is that all? I thought it would have been more....

    I am lucky enough to live in a fine grape growing area,(Vinland) which apparently produce some fine wines. Quite lost on me I'm afraid. A pity really. Still if global warming proceeds as planned we might warm up enough for coffee beans.

    1. I really wasn't sure what the numbers would be - intuitively, I would have thought there were more castings then this.

      Canadian wine does not seem to get to UK shops - it would be easy to point the finger at the evil spirit of Europe preventing such things, but I suspect that the UK shops stock what they wish to stock. I have never, for example, seen the German red Portugesische wines in the UK, and I would very much like to be able to buy some.

  2. Option D - coax your good lady to drink more and just stick with the good stuff. This has the added advantage that she may be too tipsy to question whether you need all those soldiers...

    1. I like your thinking, but I don' t think this would work.

  3. I prefer sweeter German wines (or their American descendants) myself, readily available in our super markets here in the U.S., while my wife prefers chiantis, merlots, and similar. Sadly, German whites rarely are purchased because my wife does most of the shopping. ON the rare occasion when a bottle of my nominally German plonk makes it into our wine rack, it seems as though I am lucky to have a single glass with dinner because. . . my wife drinks it up before I am able to enjoy a second glass an evening or two later. . . lightweight that I am.

    Best Regards,


    1. Riesling, and especially cheap hock, went through a bad period in the UK in early 1980s when every plonker who worked in the London commodity markets (and wore red braces - what will historians make of this?) suddenly became an expert in opera and expensive wines. I am very partial to a good Riesling - especially the old Halbtrocken.

      What happened to those red braces - do people look at old photos of their office nights out and congratulate themselves on their good taste?

  4. Cataloging is an important step in the whole process since you cannot manage what is not measured. Some of our collections are beyond management even with a detailed catalog. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I maintain a catalog too.

    1. Stout fellow, Jon - it's the only way. Sound.

      There is a very faint conterargument, in that (e.g.) the UK insurance industry became so obsessed with mis-selling and regulations that they diverted most of their effort into measuring things, and lost the plot. Our country is beset now with people who make a living out of measuring exactly how quickly our economy is sliding down the toilet. The point is merely that, though I agree completely with your premise, measuring in itself does not ensure that anything is being managed (though it's a healthy sign!).

  5. I think OCD doesnt really do you justice. Years ago when I was building my Napoleonic armies I had this brilliant idea to use the Nafziger battle orders as the basis for my collection. Every time I painted a unit I would tick off the requisite real unit from the list. The result was more units than I could ever use, and I mean corps full of regiments.It wasnt a good idea. Now I just paint until Im sick, or until another new range appears then I will buy them, naturally.
    As for wine, between MS and Morrisons I try to buy quality at a cheaper price,sadly the se are wasted on my ill educated palate, what I look for is unconsciousness.A true Brit Im afraid.

    1. I think your army building philosophy was excellent - I can see that it might risk damaging one's sanity, though.

  6. You have fallen foul of the perpetual confusion as to what this country is actually called. The chaps on the radio would actually have been from the English Wine Growers Association or something along those lines.

    The labelling rules are straightforward, but not terribly clear unless you know them. English or Welsh wine is the stuff grown here. British wine (and indeed sherry and brandy) is the stuff made from imported grape juice. All the latter used to be made just round the corner from where I lived near Gillette Corner in west London until the land became too valuable and they moved elsewhere.

    1. The perpetual confusion is less of a problem in Scotland, where we have developed the instinct of watching for the moment when Andy Murray becomes British, etc. It makes sense that we Britsih should have a counterintuitive definition of wine origin. If I buy a box of French wine which is made with Bulgarian grape juice then I shall not be pleased, but somehow I would expect nothing better from the lofty Brits.

      I must look out for a box of English wine in Tesco - what's the chance of my finding any? What would be the chance of my drinking it if I did? As a tee shirt of mine used to say, "Life is too short to drink cheap wine" - I'm confident you will be able to identify the origin of the quote.

    2. Goethe. And he actually said bad wine.

      I suspect that the economics of growing wine in England - the lack of sun specifically - mean that they can only succeed by aiming for the upper end of the market. I believe for example that English sparkling wine aims to compete with Champagne rather than with Prosecco.

    3. Well done you (as they say on Facebook). Goethe would have been disappointed with my tee shirt. Did Goethe use Google?

      In the same way that people under two feet in height are not recommended to be become professional goalkeepers, it seems odd that any English agricultural activity should concern itself with something as hilarious as competing in the Champagne market - perhaps beetroot growing? If they make money then God bless them, but there is something strangely irritating about the entire charade (with respect). Do they sell British Whisky too?

    4. I thought the only use for champagne was to launch warships, and we do so little of that these days it hardly seems worth basing an industry on it.

  7. Thank you, Foy. I was wondering what too many soldiers amounted to!

    Best regards.

    1. It's all relative - I recently revisited Clive's loft, and my head is still spinning. I am a mere dabbler.

    2. Precisely! Stop beating yourself up, Foy. Your collection is what it is. Beautifully assembled and curated.

  8. You've just got to love the good old wine box. Invented by an Australian as it happens, you're welcome. For those who wish to be culturally sensitive it should be called a cask not a box (what do we know, being rustic colonials). Also, the bag inside, which can be removed for ease of transport when camping, is called a goon sack (short for flagon). Once emptied the goon sack makes a handy pillow too. We're all class.
    However, in our national struggle to make guzzling plonk available to the masses we've gone another step and done away with corks. Only imported and collectable wines still have stoppers. Most Aussie plonk is now bottled with screw caps. It is cheaper and much easier to reseal (which helps keep the flies out). Hopefully this innovation will also soon make it to a Tescos near you. Again, you're welcome.

    1. Thank you for this - key notes carefully reproduced in my Pocket Book of Lifemanship. I'm not sure that the expression "cask-conditioned" will have quite the same resonance for me in future, mind. Another good trick with the inner bag from a cask, I am told, if it is of the clear plastic variety, is to smuggle it into hospital when it is almost empty (this has to be red wine, of course) and walk off with it to find a nurse - I am assured this can achieve very short bursts of hilarity.

      The French were the last to hold out with the corks, I think, but they've gone screwy as well. For a while I used to search out screw-top wines because my old mum could no longer manage a corkscrew, so I was something of an expert. Screwies are good - in particular, they have removed the scope for visiting know-alls to explain how wine should be stored horizontally, to keep the cork wet - in fact it is now correct to store them vertically, since this is better for the sediment. It is, in fact, mostly bollocks anyway, but I am still scarred by the memory of some boxes of decent Argentine cabernet sauvignon I got from Laithwaite's once to use up my Nectar points in the days when I cared about these things - the stuff was not cheap, and was all corked - that is corked as in "tasted like giraffe urine". So much for yer expert importers.

      Tricky stuff, wine. A friend and I were recently chortling over the memory of 1980s London yuppies flying in the new season's beaujolais nouveau by helicopter, so they could claim to have it first. I wonder if any of those arse-wipes are still around?

    2. Wine is a minefield, largely one constructed by people who like to make other people feel bad for no reason. Luckily wine is now officially over. One should be talking instead about how one only uses fresh artisinal ingredients in season, and the merits of craft beer.
      The danger of wine corking back in the day had some upsides. My sister in law once had a job in a very good win bar near the university that included periodically testing every case in the warehouse. As they say, nice work if you can get it.

    3. That was certainly a job to be envied.

      I have almost certainly aired this tale before, but I once had a boss who prided himself on his knowledge of wines, and for a couple of years he used to bring in an outside specialist company, so that our seasonal management get-together could feature - guess what? - that's right - a wine-tasting competition, staged entirely so that Fat Alan could demonstrate how superior his knowledge of the subject was. That was not a big deal - such an event had compensations which allowed us to overlook Fat Alan's conceit. Sad to say, Fat Alan passed away recently, laid low by a medical condition brought on by years of excessive drinking.

      It would be mean-hearted to feel a smirk coming on, but hey.