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

Monday, 23 April 2018

Hooptedoodle #299 - The Counties

Flag of Rutland
My wife is a subscriber to a monthly magazine called Country Walking - yes, that's right, it's a walking magazine. In a recent issue, there was a little handout sheet - the purpose of the sheet is not really relevant, but the fact that it has an outline map of UK counties caught my eye, and I spent an entertaining half hour or so looking at it.

I was brought up in England - in Liverpool, in fact, which used to be in Lancashire in those days. The Counties were part of our education. I was interested in the fact that top class cricket in England was organised by counties (still is), and a lot of history is organised and recorded by county. Also, I suppose, counties identified the regional loyalties with which we were raised, and some of the counties have been more or less at war with each other for centuries. Once it was principally Lancashire vs Yorkshire, and now it seems to have become Greater London vs The Rest - I claim no particular expertise here.

Anyway, I had a quick shot at identifying the counties on the map - some of course are very easy for me, because they were local and I learned them when I was seven, some are a little trickier (I was very pleased to get both Nottinghamshire and Shropshire correctly, without cheating), and then I got a bit shakier on the Herts and Bucks and Wilts bit, and then I stopped with something of a shock. Just a minute - where's Middlesex? They've forgotten bloody Middlesex - and then I realised that this is not counties as we used to understand them - it also includes the more modern "administrative" counties - there is a correct and complete list of all of them, of course, and it is a mixture of the ancient counties which have apparently been there since long ago, and a bunch of other entities which sort of coalesced out of the ruins of the sad Regions concept (of which more later) which ran our lives between 1965 and 1996. As a very approximate rule of thumb, to use a Scottish example, while someone might just have Roxburghshire tattooed on his arm, since he was proud that this was where he came from, no-one will have Borders Region tattooed on anything apart from maybe the municipal garbage truck (assuming it isn't contracted out or privatised this week, of course).

So this is all a mixture of really old things and more modern concepts which gets us into matters of local government (a phrase which always seems to require a juicy spit at the end, somehow), and - of course - flaming democracy, which has a lot to answer for, but no matter.

It turns out that Middlesex is sort of included (replaced, anyway) for most practical purposes in Greater London, so I can understand that.

I got into problems with the Welsh bit of the map. When I was a kid, since Liverpool was traditionally the unofficial capital of North Wales, I had a lot of Welsh friends, and I used to go cycling and hillwalking in Wales, and spend holidays there. Of course, the counties I used to visit were Caernarvonshire, Cardiganshire, Pembroke - all that. All long gone, and replaced by Dyfed, Powys, Clwyd and so on. These are ancient names, with a nobility of their own, and probably have more traditional gravitas than the names I grew up with - I'm not sure how the boundaries line up, though, and I'm not sure if anyone has Dyfed tattoed on his arm. I'll take that in the spirit of positive change, and leave any Welsh readers to dispute the matter.

I was brought up to know that Rutland was the smallest of the British counties. I thought it had probably been a casualty of Regionalisation, and I was faintly surprised (and pleased) to see that it still appears on the map - at number 35 - and it is pretty small, right enough. But then I observed that Clackmannanshire (85) looks even smaller, so maybe Rutland was only the smallest English county, or maybe it depends on how you measure it. [Being a tedious fellow, I checked - Clackmannan has less land area than Rutland, but rather more residents].

At this point, I was having to face up to the fact that the organisation of the UK is one of those subjects I choose not to think much about, and just hope it doesn't come up in the pub quiz (in which respect it is similar to topics like the geography of what used to be the USSR, popular music after 1985 and the cast of East Enders - all dark areas for me).

I like the traditional names - while accepting that everything must have once replaced something even older, I was pleased when reading about the Covenanters and their army that the regiments were aligned with the places they were raised - places with emotive names like Clydesdale, Teviotdale and The Merse - these sound like real places, which someone would be proud to have as a birthplace - there was not a Borders Region regiment, for example.

Fake Heraldry - the Arms of Borders Region, circa 1970s - a salmon for the
Tweed, a ram's head for someone else. All bollocks - all on the ratepayers' bill
A quick snipe at The Regions, then. Obviously Regionalisation was around for 30 years or so, and wasn't such a stupid flash in the pan as it felt at the time. I'm sure some wonderful work was done, and lives were improved - especially the lives of people who gained new, imposing job titles, with salaries to match. Some of the changes which were made in 1965 and 1974 in the interests of Regionalisation seem to have been carried out by some idiot bureaucrat armed with an official pencil and no conception at all of history or anything else. I recall that some towns moved between Lancs and Yorks, for example, which is an astonishing thing to do to people who had played cricket against each other, stolen sheep and protected their daughters from each other for centuries. Someone tried (unsuccessfully) to give Fife a new name - or include it in some inappropriate new area - I am delighted to say I can't remember the details. Previous mention of Clackmannanshire reminds me that for a while it disappeared into the wonderfully named Central Region. Now there's poetry - something to be proud of. We are the boys from Central. Hmmm. It's a bit like calling a region Up a Bit, and to the Left. Anyway, we seem to have recovered from that dark period.

Now I think about it, what happened to SELNEC (South-East Lancs and North-East Cheshire)? Was that just an early mock-up for Greater Manchester, or did some erk actually think this was a good name? It's a relief, in a way, to see that lack of soul and imagination is nothing new.

By the way, I now live in East Lothian. There was an East Lothian regiment with the Covenanters in 1643 (the colonel was Ralph Hepburn, who was a neighbour of mine from Waughton), but for many years the county was called Haddingtonshire. Hardly anyone knows this now - even in these parts - but old maps of parish boundaries and old regimental photos prove that it mattered to someone once.


Haddingtonshire Rifle Volunteers - 1860s
Anyway, I thought I would share with you the little map, so you can play spot the county - or I suppose you could even colour it in if you have your crayons handy. Personally, I never go anywhere without my crayons if I can help it.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Field of Battle - Nibbling Away

Things are a bit disrupted around here at present - as far as hobby stuff goes, the problem is time. It's not that I don't have any spare time, it's just that it's a bit unpredictable, and tends to become available in small amounts.

Thus for some weeks I haven't been doing any major painting work - it's all been short bursts of refurb work (which can produce finished figures quite quickly, if I do it right), poking at test figures for big batches to come, and reading in odd quiet moments.

I'm working away at getting up to speed on Field of Battle, the Piquet-produced game which has me quite excited at the moment. As with all new games, there is a lot to learn - philosophically as much as anything else - this game is unlike most of my previous wargaming experience. It has some similarities to the full Piquet rules - though it is not simply a "lite" version of Piquet.

I've been reading and studying the rules, and I now have a scenario book, which is very interesting indeed; I've invested in a couple of decks of the official cards, and I have finally sourced some sets of dice. Like Piquet (I think), Field of Battle requires the rolling of small numbers of dice - usually they are rolled singly or in twos - but they may be selected from a set (for each side) of one each of D4, D6, D8, D10, D12 and D20. Interesting challenge to get a completely satisfactory matched set - I had some problems finding D10s which were numbered 1-10 instead of 0-9. Managed it without too much hassle, so I'm all ready to get on with some trials now.

The intro to the rules recommends that the new reader should not be overcome by the length of the booklet, nor damage his health trying to memorise reams of tables. The recommended approach is to set up a smallish game (I'll make this a solo effort - about 10 units a side), and have a bash, taking note of how the cards work. The set-up requires a fair amount of work - it's necessary to determine the quality of the army, and of its leaders and units, make up an appropriate pack of cards for each army, and work out what "size" of die (D6, D8 etc) is to be used by each unit for combat and for defence.

This is not the place to attempt any kind of summary of how the game works, nor attempt any kind of critique - suffice to say that I am happily working away at getting up to speed, and I hope to play a solo trial game sometime in the next however-many weeks. This is not a blistering rate of progress, admittedly, but I am enjoying it. My thanks to Darren, for his kind help and guidance, and also to Brent Oman, the author and originator of the game, for his help and generosity in getting me off the ground.

In a perfect world, the next logical thing for me to do would be to attend someone else's game (as a spectator) to see how it swings and feels. I guess that is unlikely, but I'm open to invitations if anyone fancies it - especially in a warm country with liberal drink laws...

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Bavarians - Another Sample Figure

I've finished the second "style sample" - this is a fusilier from the 9th Infantry Regiment Ysenburg - the casting, again, is by Der Kriegspieler.

I'm getting the hang of the Bavarian uniforms now.

Serious painting will be starting shortly...

***** Late Edit *****

A propos of absolutely nothing - this follows a couple of recent conversations. There was some talk of Sergei Bondarchuk's Waterloo being released on BluRay to commemorate the bicentennial of the battle. Did it ever happen? I can't trace any such product - I have now watched this film an embarrassing number of times (far more than the number of times I've watched The Sound of Music...) and still love it to bits - warts and all. Nay - especially the warts - wart-spotting is a great hobby.

If ever a film needed an HD BluRay edition this is it. Anyone know anything about this?


Saturday, 7 April 2018

Bavarians - More Preliminaries

I've now completed my first pilot figure, and have learned a lot about the Bavarian line infantry uniform, and the practicalities of painting it in 20mm scale. I am now a lot more confident about what is required. This is a fusilier of the 14th IR - a Der Kriegsspieler casting. You can distinguish these from the very similar Hinton Hunt figure since the soldier's feet are placed in the middle of the front and back edges of the base, rather than diagonally opposed in the corners, and the musket is carried in front of the body, with a space behind it, rather than the "bookshelf" attachment of the HH. I will be using some HH castings for the line infantry, but the DKs have an advantage in that they made fusiliers without plumes - presumably Marcus intended that his customers should simply grind the plumes off the grenadier castings, as required.

For the entertainment of those who understand these things, and most certainly know more about them than I do, here's a photo of a small selection of Hinton Hunt Bavarian officers, from my tubs. These are, from left to right, two examples of BVN1 and one of BVN6 - they are all clearly coded under the bases. I was interested that the two BVN1 "charging" chaps are different - they have their heads turned at different angles, as you see, and the one on the left has an unmistakable epaulette on his left shoulder.

Bavarian officers didn't wear epaulettes.

It is always inadvisable to imply, even accidentally, that Marcus ever made any mistakes (similarly for Peter Gilder and the Perry Bros - not acceptable at all), but I wondered whether the left hand figure was in fact an earlier version, subsequently replaced.

As ever, it matters not a jot - I'm happy to file off the epaulette, and it's a luxury to have a choice of two slightly different poses. Just thought I'd mention it.

Next job is to prepare another prototype paint job, this time for the 9th Ysenburg IR. I've received a little shipment of paint from Foundry - I must confess to a very slight moment of disappointment when I found that the appropriate shade for the facings of the 5th Von Preysing IR appears in the Foundry catalogue as Nipple Pink. I hadn't realised that Foundry did that spotty Citadel Warhammer thing - there's something faintly incongruous in my first two official paint acquisitions from Foundry for this new army being Bavarian Cornflower Blue and Nipple Pink, though I accept that this little problem - if there is one - is entirely mine.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Bavarians - Something Stirs

Still a lot to do before this gets seriously underway, but this weekend I've started cleaning up some infantry figures for painting, as part of my Napoleonic Bavarian project. The chaps in the picture make up two battalions - most of them are Der Kriegsspieler, though the command are a mix of Hinton Hunt and Falcon.

The first batch should yield three painted battalions - not sure of the timing, but at least things are moving now.

The infantry will be provided by castings from DK, HH, SHQ (provided the castings are better than the batch I received recently - legs missing etc) and the Hagen-reissued Falcon range. The gunners will be SHQ (since I can't afford the Franznap ones) and the cavalry are still to be worked out. Since the cavalry of my target period of 1809-12 all wore variations on very similar uniforms, it should be possible to recruit nearly all the cavalry from the Hinton Hunt chevauxleger OPC figures, with conversions based thereupon.

My target OOB is in two stages:

The "halfway-house" target is Deroy's 3rd Division of Lefebvre's VII Corps of 1809 - this comprises two brigades of infantry, plus one of cavalry, plus a couple of batteries for the Division. The cavalry brigade is of two regiments (1 Chevauxlegers + 1 of dragoons), and the infantry brigades each comprise 2 x 2-bn line regiments plus a light battalion - that's 10 battalions total.

The longer-term objective is to add Wrede's 2nd Division, which has a very similar structure.

The accumulation of figures proceeds - I have them organised into tubs within crates, as you see, but there's a fair amount to obtain still.

I confess to some nervousness over the small matter of painting HH or DK type figures. It's been a while since I did this on any non-trivial scale, and I am uncomfortably aware that the glories which we see weekly from the blogs of Stryker, Wellington Man and Mark D show how this should be done. I don't anticipate getting even close to that quality, so I'll just have to take refuge behind the old "effective in the mass" policy embraced by some of the wargaming pioneers.

Problem with DK and similar (obviously) is that the detail of the figures is to some extent implied rather than set out in crisp relief in the manner of more modern castings. It'll be fine, I'm sure, but I'm not going into this with any level of arrogance, I can assure you! Doubtless you will see some painted figures emerging fairly shortly, but if my painting is disappointing they may be standing in the distance, slightly out of focus, in Old School black-and-white.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Hooptedoodle #298 - Donkey Award - The Man Who Bought the Same Puzzle Books, Two Years Later

The Donkey, let it be understood right at the start, is me.

I came to Sudoku rather late in life - I've been interested in the idea for years, but I swerved the craze (was it a craze? - is it now an ex-craze?) because I know myself too well; I always knew I would get hooked and would waste far too many hours - I find the puzzles very compelling, and the perfection of the game system has a strange beauty and rhythm. Love it.

This started in earnest in 2016, when I bought the first 4 of the Telegraph's Sudoku books to take on holiday to Austria. I very quickly became addicted, and got a lot of pleasure from them. I invested in a good-quality propelling pencil (Faber-Castell Grip-Plus model, 0.7mm lead, lose the pocket clip, keep a supply of fresh eraser inserts...) - with the pencil tucked in the current page of my current book, I'm a happy bunny on train journeys, in dentists' waiting rooms - you name it. I don't claim to be particularly brilliant at Sudoku, you understand, but I like to think I'm not bad, if a little slow sometimes.

The Telegraph books are structured so that the puzzles are graded - they start off "Gentle" and then get progressively more difficult, going through "Tough" (I can't remember all the actual grade titles) until they get to "Diabolical" at the end. Problem is that the faster you bash through the easier ones, the quicker you reach the near-impossible ones at the end. The end-state of one of my Telegraph Sudoku books is that I am left with only the very hardest puzzles, so that if I pick up an almost-finished book I have maybe a 20% chance of solving the next puzzle.

Thus I have started each new book before the previous one was finished - basically because I am not capable of finishing it, but also because regularly failing to solve the next puzzle is not entirely gratifying (though one appreciates a challenge, of course).

I believe I have now "finished" (more accurately, "had enough of") Telegraph books 1 to 7, though I suspect I never did purchase Vol.6. I've chucked out the "finished" books, and now started looking to see what further volumes the Telegraph is offering. It was only when I started looking that it suddenly dawned on me that, since there is no way I would ever remember, or even recognise, a particular puzzle I had already attempted, it would be perfectly feasible to start again with Volume 1. Thus I have ordered books 1 to 4, though Amazon helpfully protested that I had bought these same books just two years ago. One big plus (especially for us Scottish enthusiasts) is that the earlier volumes are available through Amazon's Marketplace, new, at 30 pence a pop, rather than the full price of £5.99. You do get stiffed a little for P&P, but it's still a big saving. Better and better.

So I've ordered up the same books again! If everything goes well, there's no reason why I couldn't order them up yet again sometime later. All right, I could get someone else's Sudoku books instead, I suppose, but I know and trust the Telegraph's gradings and organisation.

In passing, I was intrigued to note that some dealers on the Marketplace were offering even cheaper, used copies. A used copy of a Sudoku puzzle book? - if they're anything like mine, they will be full of scribblings, and filthy with the rubbings-out which are an important part of the solution. Sounds a bit dodgy to me - would you buy, for example, a second-hand paperback book of crosswords?


Anyway - Groundhog Day puzzles should start here in a week or so.


Monday, 26 March 2018

Hooptedoodle #297 - Deception in Warfare

Spring is a little delayed this year, but things are starting up in earnest - our crocuses (croci?) are making a brave show in the grass verge outside in the lane, and Dod the Gardener has just arrived with an enormous petrol-driven machine he's rented to scarify the lawns. This is getting serious, and may be expensive [scarified, Matron? - I was bloody terrified].

One thing we'd like to avoid this Summer is a repeat of the Swallows Episode from last year. Last Summer, after 17 years when they could have done the same thing (but declined), swallows eventually built a nest in our woodshed and - though I wish the little chaps no harm - they were a nuisance. They made a terrible mess. When starting their nest-building project, they appear to have thrown mud and crap all over the place, and the eventual nest was where it happened to stick best. Also, once the laying and brooding bit started, it was a problem to avoid disturbing them, and we had to clear the woodshed and put plastic sheeting down to limit the medieval squalor.

This is not so handy; we keep garden furniture in there, and some tools, and all the bins and tubs for the bird feed (which are, as they say, legion); we had to shift all that lot into the garage, so it didn't get pebbledashed - and then there was the small matter of having a load of firewood delivered during the Summer, so it could dry nicely for the year-end, and - another thing - last year the stupid beggars put their nest on top of an electric light, so we had to use a flashlight to avoid frying their eggs.

Once they had gone we disposed of the nest (which was a wreck anyway) and cleaned up thoroughly. Actually I'm not sure whether it's legal to get rid of the old nest - well, it's gone. This year we'll try to avoid a repeat. Rhetorical questions: do a pair of swallows come back to the same nest? - is there, in fact, such a thing as a pair of swallows to come back to the same nest? - could another pair somehow find (or hear about) last year's nest?.....

Whatever, we'll try to discourage them gently. We have a hot tip that one way to keep swallows away is to equip your shed with [wait for it]...

...a FAKE OWL.

Good, eh?

You buy a fake owl, and put it near the potential nesting site, and the swallows will express their disappointment, fleetingly (which is how they do everything, of course), and will then go and happily build a lovely nest somewhere else, where they can make as much mess as they want. You may well have a fake owl in your garden already, but here are some examples of what you can get.

Owlternative No.1 - this one's head turns in the wind - how awesome is that?

No.2 - this is a long-eared owl, and the swallows may knock on our door to
explain that these don't live around here
No.3 - very scary - this one is supposed to flutter on the top of a pole
So we are going to order one - at the very least we should get a good laugh if it doesn't work. It could make an interesting conversation piece if we have any soirees in the woodshed. The only slightly chilly note is that the Contesse found a reference to some unfortunate lady (in Devon, apparently - you probably like a bit of authentic detail in your stories?) who invested in a Fake Owl for exactly this purpose, and the swallows built their nest on top of the thing. Yes, I know - the owl doesn't look very realistic, does it? - and the swallows may not have realised they were supposed to be scared away. Also, I think it may have been reported in the Mail, so the story may be tripe.

People will always try to discredit a good idea
- just a minute - isn't that No.2...?

Interesting, though.

Real Life has been getting a bit much of late. We could certainly cope with swallows as well, but we'd rather they didn't bother.

Max Foy visits the lighthouse