Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

WSS: Languedoc Finished

 Extra figures painted, flags (by David of Not By Appointment) added, bases magnetized, photo taken in garden.

Régiment de Langedoc - 20mm Les Higgins castings, though the mounted officer is an Irregular figure on a Higgins horse

This is the last of the French units I propose to build by refurbishing Eric's men. There are still some figures left in the boxes, which may get called into service later, but the rest of the French will be virgin castings.

I wish you to know that I got bitten by ants while taking the pictures. Very small ants, but nippy! It is necessary to suffer for one's art.

Hooptedoodle #427 - SpecSavers - Donkey Award

 OK - this week's whinge. I haven't got the time or the patience to get into an argument with these clowns, so let's just share a bit of truth.

This has been a pretty rough week for me, taken all round, and one of the (numerous) issues which caused problems was my son getting very worried about his eyesight. He currently lives in Glasgow, and had been concerned that the prescription for his spectacles and his contact lenses was becoming a bit out of whack with reality, so he arranged an appointment with his nearest branch of a UK national chain - SpecSavers - he went to their Buchanan Street shop in Central Glasgow.

They confirmed that there had been a change in his eyesight, but nothing to worry about - his eyes were fine. They arranged to re-glaze his spectacles and ordered up new contacts, and after a week or so his order was ready.

Panic stations. He couldn't see at all well, he was getting dizzy and felt ill (he has astigmatism, which is disorientating if the specs aren't working), so he arranged the earliest return to the shop, which was this morning (3 days later). Righto. It seems that there are changes in his prescription, as they had established on his previous visit, and they are about the same in both eyes. For some reason, the order which was made for both contacts and spectacles was incorrect - the left eye was for the new prescription, the right eye for the old.

They will now correct the error. He was comfortable with the lens set-up in the opticians this morning, so with a bit of luck things should be OK when the new order comes through. Yes, there will be an extra charge, and no, no-one apologised, though they did say that they couldn't accept liability.

Think about it. If he had taken a car out on the M8 motorway, which he could if he wished, and caused a fatal accident because he was dizzy and couldn't see, where would the liability sit then? At a less dramatic level, if he had been stopped in his car by a policeman and had failed the vision check, the Polis would not be at all interested in any flaky story about an optician's mistake.

As soon as this is fixed, we are finished with SpecSavers - they may rot in hell. Better to pay a bit extra and go to someone who takes their job seriously.

Can I urge you, if you are a UK resident, to think very carefully before you ever do business with these people?

On a slightly lighter note, I would be really appreciative if anyone wishes to have a shot at this: how about a new advert for SpecSavers, based on this incident? The multiple accident scenario is not necessary, of course.

Friday, 1 July 2022

This and That, but Mostly the Other

 This week I was handed a dose of Real World which has effectively put a stop to much of what I had been hoping to do over the Summer. With luck, I expect to get through this, and in the short term I now have a chance to clear up some odds and ends which have been dragging on a bit while I was indisposed with the Plague.

Topic 1: Another French WSS unit nearing completion

Last night I finished what may be my last refurbishment job for my WSS project. I completed 14 figures for the 18-man Régiment de Languedoc - there are still another 4 figures to be painted from scratch, but that should be very straightforward, and the refurb work is done. This batch has been a bit arduous, to be honest. 

At the start of the French phase of my project, I identified a lot of pre-painted figures from Eric Knowles' collection which could be restored to fill the ranks in my new army. Some of these needed only very light re-touching, so I prioritised those, but as I worked my way through I got to some more battered and re-hashed units, and this last lot was really pretty marginal; I might have been better stripping and starting again, and I think my decision to persevere with restoring them was influenced by a wish to keep Eric's old soldiers on the march as far as possible. Eric might not have recognised some of them now, but I'm pleased with what's been achieved.

The effort required for this batch wasn't helped by a historic decision by someone (many years ago) to improve a nicely-painted regiment by the addition of sawdust, Russian toffee and henhouse-green paint to the bases. Well, in many cases, to the area below the soldiers' knees. Yuck. It's taken me about 2 weeks of soaking and scraping to get it off, but it is now gone.

Anyway, as of this morning, here are the 14 restored fellows, with the glue drying, waiting for a new mounted officer, two ensigns and a drummer to complete them. I'll post a smart photo once they are ready for action.

Topic 2: A Very Old Brush

I've maybe mentioned this brush before, but I was working yesterday with a brush which is certainly the oldest I have, I wonder how long these things last? When my dad died, 14 years ago, I helped my mother to clear out all his old art materials; he had been a keen watercolourist, but hadn't been near the hobby for years.

There were all sorts of solidified paints, and a good number of very old brushes, most of which disintegrated to dust when I rubbed the bristles. However, there were a couple of brushes which he had obviously used, and they still felt OK. I destroyed one a few years ago when I accidentally got superglue on the bristles, but the other is still going strong. Here it is, in the foreground, in action yesterday:

I use this a lot for (for example) applying baseboard-green paint to the bases of my figures, a situation in which I would not choose to involve any of my Series 7 brushes, since the paint is simply latex emulsion paint for interior walls, and they get bunged up.

Things get a bit more sinister if you check the other side of this brush. 

The logo indicates that it comes from HM Stationery Office, was from the 1966 stock, and must have been liberated from the drawing office at the UK Atomic Energy Authority's electrical engineering section at Risley, Lancashire, when my dad worked there as an engineer in the 1970s. I also found a large number of high-quality boxed Beryl pencils - mostly sketching grades like 2B, which is not a lot of use to me - which may have been liberated around the same time. I prefer not to believe that my dad was in the habit of nicking stuff from work, so I'm sure there must be a more comfortable explanation if I could just think of it...

Anyway, my point is that I have a sable brush here which was new in 1966, which my dad must have used for his watercolours from about 1969-1978, and which I have been using regularly for my wargame painting since 2008. I guess the amount of use is probably not as high as you might estimate, but I'm astonished that the sable bristles are still in good shape. It is just one of my "gash" brushes - it gets no special treatment.

Anyone got an older brush which is still in use?

Topic 3: Some Thoughts about Shiny Soldiers

In a convoluted way, this follows on from a conversation I had with Stryker recently, about the implications of applying gloss varnish to miniature soldiers, and what defines an "appropriate" painting style for the Shiny Brigade. Rather famously, he has been doing this for years with his beautiful Napoleonic Hinton Hunts, but it is a new departure for me, starting with my new involvement at the end of 2019 in the Malburian period .

Deciding which bottle of varnish to use to finish your soldiers seems like a mere detail, though there are practical considerations, such as the common trick of using gloss varnish followed by matte, to give a hard-wearing coat. I'm concerned in this note mainly with the "look" of the soldiers, and with some things I have learned about my reaction to my own shiny armies. This will all be extremely personal - what I like and what I'm trying to achieve with my collection will certainly be regarded as strange, or even unacceptable, to others. Some things which I hadn't really thought about became apparent when I started working on the armies. I developed some preferences and some definite views which I hadn't considered previously.

First thing, which came as a bit of a surprise, is that I find that what I'm putting together is not a museum of perfect historic miniatures, or a miniature facsimile of a real army, but is just a collection of toy soldiers. Yes - toys. It's OK - I enjoy, nay, celebrate the fact that they are toys!

Last week I watched the first of the later, colour episodes of Callan, from UK TV back in 1970. Illustrative point. It turns out, you see, that Callan has been moved into a different apartment after his spell in hospital, and his colleague, Cross (Patrick Mower - I hope you're taking notes here), teases him about his box of "toys". Callan gets very scratchy about this, and insists that they are "model soldiers". This is where Callan and I part company; I would have been quite happy that they be regarded as toys. In any case, Patrick Mower spent his later career stuck in some ghastly UK TV Soap [Emmerdale], so in the long run he is in no position to make fun of Callan's toys. [Bastard].

Callan keeps his entire collection of model soldiers in a single "Banner" shirt box. Even in 1970, that makes him a dabbler in my book...

Here are some thoughts, in no particular order.

* If I were to paint up a beautiful little model of a WW1 machine-gun team for wargaming, complete with basing involving mud, wire and sandbags, I would never think of giving it a shiny finish. Without pondering too hard about it, it just feels wrong.

* So, if my WSS collection are toys, why? What's the difference?

* I read an article somewhere which suggested that maybe it makes the dreadful idea of conflict and slaughter more acceptable as an entertainment, if the participants are toy-like, and the game is abstracted to the point where there are no dead men or horses cluttering up the field? - Interesting, and possible, but that's not my chief driver, I think.

* A lot must be to do with my figure supplier. I go on rather a lot about the old Les Higgins castings I use - probably rather more than general levels of interest might justify. In the past I've had appreciative comments from John Ray and from David (of the Not By Appointment blog), both men of refined tastes,  about the realistic human proportions of my toys, and the elegance of the sculpture. Cue a round of applause for the late Les Higgins. But there is something more here: the stylised poses, the delicacy of the little men, their strangely androgynous appeal, the bobbed hair, the shapely calves in stockings...

Joli Tambour. You may join me in observing that this picture from an ancient children's book seems to show a drummer wearing the French King's Livery  [Lee will especially appreciate this] 

Nailed it.

These guys are straight out of the French nursery-rhyme books of my childhood, when pretty drummer boys caught the eye of the King's daughter, and all that. They do not have smelly feet, or buck teeth, or outsized, garden-gnome hands; they do not relieve themselves behind your hedge, or burn down your barn - they are just lovely toys, of a very old-fashioned style. Thus it suits me to paint and present them as such, with appropriate overtones of a bygone age, and toy soldiers have to be shiny; it's as natural as, well, something or other that I can't quite put my finger on at the moment. 

There are implications, some of them not obvious, for painting, and I have to thank Lee and Goya and a couple of other kind souls who have generously suppressed some elements of their natural painting styles in support of this idiosyncrasy of mine; if the painting is too impressionistic or too layered then gloss varnish can produce bizarre results. A simple, colourful style lends itself well to the presentation, and the toy units will then move around the field in colourful, rigid formations. They can fight Schellenberg if you wish, but it will be Toy Schellenberg - as my brain ages, I find that my rules are becoming more toy-like, as well.

When I started on this, I had very little idea what I was aiming for, other than clues I could get from what Eric and others had done before me, but what is evolving is a little, personal subculture and some better developed guidelines on how I like things done. This is not based on any series of decrees; I have rarely said, "this is how it will be", but I have frequently said, "Gosh, I really like that", and very occasionally I have said (of my own work), "oops...".

Quite soon, when my WSS Phase 1 is complete (the delay is likely to be associated with non-appearance of staff figures, but I'm working on that), I'll produce full team photos and pay tribute to the heroes who have helped me so much over the last couple of years, but I haven't quite got there yet. I'm constantly amazed by how much I have learned along the way.



Thursday, 23 June 2022

Zoom! - OOOOOH! - phut....

 I'm aware of other bloggers publishing rather splendid accounts of their remote wargames, and I'm very impressed, not to say envious.

I started off using Zoom for wargames with great enthusiasm early in the pandemic lockdown, I hosted a number of games, and I was very pleased and excited by the results and the potential. It was only later, when I took the trouble to find out, that I realised that the video quality I was sending out was so poor that it wasn't such a great experience for the generous friends on whom I was inflicting it. I was sent some very iffy-looking screenshots of what was visible at the far end, and then the Bold David mentioned that he was pleasantly surprised to see how attractive my wargame figures were, when he studied the photographs which I took during the refight of Kilsyth in which he had been involved. The wonders of what I could see on-site had nothing to do with his view, far, far away.

I confess my crest was more than a little fallen.

There was a time when it seemed possible that Zoom offered all that was likely to be available for the foreseeable future in the twilit world of Covid. I had a paid account, since I was involved with the musical activities of the Folk Club of a neighbouring town, and I'd learned a lot there about what could be achieved on a shoestring budget. For the wargaming, I had grandiose plans to spend money on a top-quality streaming video camera, to improve the pictures. My youngest son made the useful observation that I could spend what I wanted, but Zoom would take one look at the available bandwidth out here in The Sticks, and would automatically dumb-down the picture resolution to what it thought our broadband could sustain reliably.

Roman mosaic (low-resolution)

The set up I used here consisted of my (5-year old) Android tablet as the main camera/host, with my alter ego Max attending the sessions using my old iPhone to provide a second camera from the far end of the table. Both of these devices have excellent built-in cameras, and the pictures I can see on-screen at my end of the sessions look very good, but the cruncher has been the dreaded rural broadband. Our service arrives by radio broadcast (no, you read that correctly), by line-of-sight transmission from a hill about 8 miles away. The maximum service available was a humble 12Mb/sec, which may sound laughable but was easily the best of all the options available. No wonder, then, that my Zoom sessions produced pictures with the resolution of a Roman mosaic floor.

Traprain Hill - there's a transmitter up there somewhere

[In passing, I must note that when we were originally being sold the idea of the radio transmission service, one of my neighbours was not happy at all, since she believed that a line-of-sight transmission would not work at night - this has been one of the brighter moments in our experience.]

Well, time has passed, and my internet service provider has upgraded the kit, so we now get a handsome 32Mb/sec, which would still be regarded as a joke in Kensington but represents a whole new age of promise here. Buoyed up by the new possibilities, I roped in some brave volunteers to check out what effect this had on Zoom pictures, and I regret to say that it didn't seem to make any notable difference. The quality at the far end of the connection was still, to coin a technical term, duff.

The Far End view - this screenshot kindly provided by The Other David, captured in far-off Londinium. This is post-upgrade - the camera in use at this instant is the old iPhone at the West End of the table. Not terrible, but certainly not great.

So I wrote to the technical support people at Zoom. If you have never attempted this, by the way, I recommend you do not bother. They are pretty good at debiting money from your bank account very promptly, but their customer service is non-existent. It would be tempting to suggest it is about as bad as you can get, but my world survey is not yet complete; however, I think it must be up there.

So I am left to wonder what is possible. How do those guys out there successfully run remote wargames, with no-one getting frustrated or going blind?

* Despite our local pride in the upgrade, 32Mb/s may still be show-stoppingly slow. I tried connecting the devices directly (by cable) to my hub, rather than use the wi-fi, but it made no difference.

* I could try some more modern mobile devices, but that would cost money, and doesn't seem to offer any guaranteed improvement.

* There must be something in my Zoom settings, you would think, that would sort this out? Well there isn't. I can choose to have my wrinkles blurred a bit, or the background replaced by a photo of Miami, but the picture resolution appears to be a given.

* It does occur to me that the overall traffic on a Zoom session can be cut back a bit by switching off the video pictures from the remote generals, but at this point I am just tinkering with details.

That's about it, really. I am disappointed, since I got the Zoom games quite nicely organised, video quality apart. If I am not going to be able to improve this I shall stop the paid account and go back to the freebie one, which restricts the number of participants and the length of multiple sessions.

I would be really very pleased to get any useful advice here. I thought of moving to Kensington, but decided against it. 

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

I came across this notice on the Zoom site, which may be bad news; it seems that Zoom have restricted display on sessions involving more than 2 participants to "standard quality" rather than HD. It is hoped this is a temporary measure, and apparently it is because of Covid, and apparently it may only be Zoom that got us through Covid anyway. Humility does not seem to come naturally to Zoom's marketing people, but I guess we have to be grateful.


Sunday, 19 June 2022

Hooptedoodle #426 - Just a Minute...

 I'm still trying to get my sleep patterns into some more sensible state, after Covid. I woke early this morning, cross about having slept far too much yesterday, got myself washed and dressed and breakfasted and made a start at 5am on the tax returns - mine and my mother's. There isn't really a great rush to get them done, but I've been putting the task off for a few weeks, and its been starting to irritate me.

Sure enough, I completed my mother's return (on paper, since, not having a driving licence or a passport, my poor old mum no longer exists in the digital world) and my own (online, since I am privileged enough to conform to the required civic profile), and I even drove into the village to post the paper one. I can assure you that the place was very quiet at 9am on a Sunday.

Right - very pleased to have got that done - a bit of a fight-back after the hassle and the slobbing around.

Garden furniture, back on the patio; we'll have to tidy up a little, in case someone falls down a ravine, or gets strangled by a jungle vine

Later today, after investing the standard amount of effort into preparing our recyclable waste for collection tomorrow, I had another look at our new garden parasol. The previous one lasted for 16 years or so, but eventually this year we were forced to accept that Spring-cleaning it with the pressure washer was not a great idea. So we have a new one, which was cheaper than I expected, but also of observably inferior quality.

The parasol will be great - we've even moved the garden furniture back on to the patio, after it spent quite a few years in a sort of exile next to the front steps. One concern I had was that it is now more exposed to the wind, and it billows about in even a relatively gentle breeze. The old parasol had a built-in cord which was used to bind it closed, to keep the sail-area down and keep the beasties out. Today's great idea, then, was that I improvised the same sort of arrangement, using a spare roll of Velcro I've had in a drawer for years. Excellent - problem solved, and it cost me nothing. Result.

The improvised Velcro fastening; yes it is ugly, and it looks cheap and nasty, but I think you may be missing the point here...

I feel as though I'm on a sort of roll - yesterday's triumph was that I repaired a lampshade, which doesn't sound too impressive, but there are fitted shades on the bedside lamps in the attic bedroom, and one of the shades had a broken frame. It was originally spot-welded, I believe (Cheapo Productions - unbeatable value). I had spent some time trying to find a similar pair of shades, but couldn't find any the same size, and none with the conveniently old-fashioned fittings. In a Mother of Invention moment, I realised that I could probably repair the frame with a blob of Gorilla glue. Worth a shot. Worked perfectly. The lampshade problem is solved, and, like the Velcro fastener for the parasol, it cost me absolutely nothing.

And there was light, and you could see for miles

I was really quite invigorated by my successful couple of days, and it was only later this afternoon, when I was looking for other long-standing problems to cross off the to-do list, that I finally realised that I have turned into my dad...

Friday, 17 June 2022

WSS: Les Higgins - a Little More Figure Paleontology

 I warn you now, this is an extremely nerdy post indeed, so if you like this sort of stuff you should maybe worry a little, but welcome to the gang hut anyway.

My WSS armies mostly consist of Les Higgins 20mm castings, or PMD (Phoenix Model Developments), which is how the company was relaunched after Les died in the early 1970s. As I work through the jobs involved in building up my own forces, I have become familiar with slight variants on the figures as time passed. I'm not referring to conversions added to the range by Old John in recent years, I'm referring to evolution in the original production days.

The relevant page from the Les Higgins Miniatures catalogue of 1971

This post (such as it is) was prompted by the realisation that the last few of my original-pattern MP16 castings are about to be painted, and all the MP16s I will have thereafter will be examples of the later PMD figure, which was sculpted entirely by Tim Richards, who succeeded Les as the company's chief designer. There was a sort of landmark period when the range was remastered to show the new PMD logo, and Richards took the opportunity to make some changes - the officer with sword [from pack MP17] was smartened up and given more ornate dress, and a couple of other changes were made; the throwing grenadier [MP3] and the charging grenadier [MP7] were always weak castings, since they stood on one foot, so these were tweaked so that the figures were standing more firmly. For some reason which I've never fathomed, the PMD version of the walking horse has it's head turned to the left, whereas the original was peeking to the right - otherwise the castings appear identical, logos apart. And there was a new, simpler drummer [from MP18], which was all Richards' work

The listing, borrowed without permission from the vintage20MIL website

Anyway, to MP16. The original figure is described, at least in the list in Vintage 20 MIL, as "at the ready". After the changeover to PMD, this figure seems to have disappeared and been replaced by a very different chap, who seems to be advancing in a very businesslike manner. I like both castings, personally - it has been suggested to me that the later version looks very similar to a Strelets French fusilier pose - not a bad copy, considering it predated it by 45 years or so.

To commemorate the passing of my last old-style MP16s, I set up a couple of photos, with a choice of lighting. The two figures on the left are Les Higgins' handiwork, and they show traces of white undercoat. The two on the right are the replacement PMD figure by Tim Richards. 


I love them all. 

Sunday, 12 June 2022

WSS: Déjà Vu (well, sort of)

Case Study No. 1

Some years ago, when I was building up my 20mm ECW armies, I became very interested in the Covenanters of 1643-44. I bought in some useful books, and kind of befriended all those local chaps who had trooped down to Duns Camp, besieged Newcastle and fought at Marston Moor. When I say local, I mean local to where I live; I was especially interested in the adventures of the East Lothian Regiment, for example, who were raised by Sir Ralph Hepburn, whose family seat, Waughton Castle, is about 5 miles from where I'm sitting. Well, it was there before someone nicked all the stone to build dykes and farm steadings.   

I read the life of Alexander Leslie and the history of his army, and there is some wonderful detail of who was who in the Covenanter force. I became very interested in the rather confusing period which is now known as the Bishops' Wars, about 1638-40. I considered whether it would make a satisfactory alternative campaign, and how easily I could fudge armies for it from what I already had planned. I still think about it now, but I quickly decided that the idea was intriguing, but there were some major snags, not the least being that King Charles's on-the-cheap Army of Vengeance was a wash-out. It was a very silly and one-sided conflict. Charles obviously felt that the Divine Right of Kings extended to prohibiting anyone from opposing his army on the battlefield. The point at which I left it is that

(1) it might make an interesting campaign at some point, but not a historical one; it would benefit from the armies being artificially balanced rather a lot.

(2) come to think about it, maybe it would make a nice map game - possibly a boardgame...

Case Study No. 2

Time passes; since the end of 2019 I have been working on refurbishing and extending armies for the War of the Spanish Succession. Once again, I find that I have committed myself to building armies in a long-dead scale, using figures which have been out of production for 45 years or so. It's a rare talent.

In my hunt for alternative figures which would fit, I looked at all sorts, and found that nearly all the plastics and 1/72 metal miniatures were too big. Irregular Miniatures offered some useful variations, but there wasn't much else. Around this time, it occurred to me that Newline, if they made suitable figures, might be just about right for my target 1/76 scale. Of course, they don't. They have some SYW British infantry who obviously have the later uniform. However, they sent me a sample pack of their Jacobites. Hey. Pretty good.

Now I was at the beginning of putting together serious armies for the Blenheim period, and had no wish to get distracted into looking at the 1745 Rebellion. However, I thought that perhaps, as an alternative, The 1715 might be an interesting add-on for my WSS chaps. A period I know very little about, of course, so I made a mental note and shelved the idea for later.

To my amazement, I now estimate I should complete my original Phase One plan for the WSS by Winter this year, ignoring any element of Creeping Elegance which might extend the work. Without wishing to tempt Providence, I spent a little of my current isolation period thinking more about this. I bought a very cheap, pre-owned copy of Stuart Reid's Sheriffmuir on eBay, and it arrived last week. Great book!

I find myself back in the Bishops' Wars situation. What could I do, how rewarding would it be, and how much of a distraction? There are copious lists of regiments, not all of which could have appeared at the same time, but some familiar names from my memory of the old Royalist horse in the days of the Marquis of Newcastle - Widdrington, among others. Maybe some of my ECW cavalry could ride again? A few of the British WSS regiments have the right facings and so on, though of course my flags are hopeless for the years after 1707. And then there are Highland troops - I now know that Newline might work nicely, and I also have some (very scruffily painted) Irregular Highlanders I bought in to help the Marquis of Montrose. Hmmm.

At the moment I am enjoying reading about this, and making up candidate lists of what I could use from what I already have (if I kept my eyes half-shut), and what else I could sensibly add. I'm convinced that I won't do anything for the moment, but it's an interesting possibility. As with my potential cod Bishops' Wars, I think the approach might be a heavily-fictionalised map campaign.

Anyway, whatever happens, I am enjoying reading about yet another unfamiliar bit of history. Learning stuff is fun, provided the old Covid allows one to stay awake long enough to do some reading!