Recently, someone made a jocular reference to the old Minifigs 5mm troop blocks, which, for me, come under the general heading of Did This Really Happen?
I'll come back to the 5mm blocks in a minute or two, but for me the strongest recollection is that they remind me of Peter Gouldesbrough, one of the better known of the earlier Scottish wargamers - who for a while was a great enthusiast for these blocks - and of a brief period when I spent some time with him, so let's start with Peter.
|The General from the Braid Hills|
Peter was retired when I met him. We were introduced by a mutual wargaming friend, who had mentioned to Peter that I had been working on some pioneering solo wargame projects involving microcomputer programs. Peter had just been given one of those newfangled Sinclair Spectrum thingummies as a present, so that must mean 1982 at the earliest. Since my first wargaming sabbatical started in 1985 (major dose of Real Life for some years thereafter), this dates things pretty accurately.
Peter was friendly with a number of the leading post-war lights of the hobby - Peter Young and Charles Grant for a start - and he is quoted in a couple of Featherstone's earlier books. He was a complete gentleman, always - I never saw him without a suit and tie, as far as I can remember.
When I met him he had recently disposed of his 20mm figure collection, and had converted to the Minifigs 5mm block system. He had redrafted his own wargames rules to suit this new scale, and this is where he wanted my help with some programming, so he could use his new Spectrum to do the record-keeping and the calculations. I was invited to participate in some of his new Napoleonic "microgames" at his house - his home and his games were every bit as dignified as I had expected.
We made some good progress with the automation of his rules, though I learned the hard way that he could be a dreadful bully, albeit a gentlemanly one! I found a number of arithmetical errors in his rules, but when I drew them to his attention I had a hard job getting him to admit they were wrong, never mind getting agreement to correct them!
The games themselves were visually interesting, though for my taste Peter had re-engineered his wargames in the "wrong" direction; a move to 5mm gave the opportunity to stage colossal battles in a compact space - this is what I would have done - but he had gone the other way. For example, he had French battalions consisting of 12 blocks of 3-deep infantry. His rules had very detailed instructions on the deployment of these half-company sections, so that changing from column to line, or sending out skirmishers (and the skirmishers were cast on tiny strips, which were exchanged for the close-order blocks as required) was a very precise, not to say painstaking, operation - as I recall, his game used 30-second bounds, to make sure we did it all properly. I also remember a couple of hilarious incidents when we lost some of the tiny troops on his battlefield. His wargames room was upstairs, on an attic level, and was rather dimly lit; add to this the fact that his table was a very dark green, like a table-tennis table, with Plasticine hills to match, and it was little surprise that the soldiers used to disappear from view. On a couple of occasions the French "lost" a regiment of light infantry on the hills, simply because we failed to spot them in the gloom. The skirmisher strips would gradually disappear, too - occasionally a couple would turn up behind the clock on the mantelpiece, one was found on the floor (fortunately before it was stood upon), one was spotted hanging from the sleeve of my sweater (wouldn't have happened with a suit), and on one occasion we found one embedded in a hill when we were clearing up.
|Peter's thoughts on 5mm - despite what he says here, his interest in |
manoeuvre resulted in his sticking with the 30-second moves!
When it was tested and reliably stable, I was roped into helping with a demonstration of the 5mm-block+Spectrum game at a wargames show one weekend in Edinburgh's Adam House, at the foot of Chambers Street, in the old University territory. This was a very long day - I was involved in the transport and setting-up, which wasn't helped by our being stuck in a quiet backwater of the basement, and thereafter I was the computer operator, gaming assistant and general gopher, helping out with numerous runs through a suitable set-piece battle. I recall that Peter had hand-painted a poster for his game, with the legend, "GOING... going... GONE", with appropriate pictures of British Napoleonic infantry gradually shrinking into invisibility.
I regret it was not a terrific day. The weather was dreadful, the show was poorly supported (at least our bit of it was) and we had maybe a dozen casual visitors during the course of the entire day. Peter, understandably, was rather miffed after all his hard work, and became somewhat grumpy. At one point an acquaintance of mine came over and chatted with me for a couple of minutes. Peter was furious - I was not there to chat to my friends, etc. I fear that, though we didn't actually fall out, the day ended on a low note.
|Ancient, appropriately grey photo of Adam House|
I was unwell for a while with glandular fever, but a few months later my wife and I were invited to a party at Peter's home - a very pleasant evening, and everything was very friendly, but after that I lost touch with him. Eventually, as these things tend to go, it was so long since I had spoken with him that it became awkward to make the effort to phone him up. Thus, I am ashamed to say, I never met with him again. Mind you, it might well be that he was extremely relieved to be rid of me!
Peter told me a number of very entertaining tales of his experiences in WW2 - since I am not a family friend I am reluctant to recount any of these at the moment.
I don't really know what became of Peter - this post is prompted really by my wondering whether anyone would care to contribute any tales of the Minifigs 5mm blocks, and in case anyone can provide any more information about Peter himself. I am very much indebted to Clive, the Old Metal Detector, for providing me with some clippings about him from Wargamers' Newsletter. Also, if anyone remembers the Edinburgh wargame shows at Adam House (must have been 1984 or 85, I reckon), please shout. I guess there was some more serious stuff going on upstairs!