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

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Railway Paint – and a trip to the Dark Side

Current Humbrol Acrylics

In the days before Humbrol introduced their Military series of enamels – with specific Napoleonic colours and everything – I tried all sorts of ploys to find shades of paint that were otherwise unobtainable. I had an expert acquaintance who used to tell me that I should use artists’ tube colours, and mix my own – the implication being that only a prat would do anything else. [See details of Foy’s Tenth Law for a discussion of this kind of advice.]

I would fix him with the closest thing to a sardonic glance I could muster without a rehearsal, and say something profound, like “wuff wuff”. Apart from the hassle and the mess, the chances of ever getting the same shade twice – maybe even once – convinced this particular prat that a ready-made pot of the shade you actually want takes some beating.

In the pursuit of this, I discovered Humbrol’s very extensive Railway Authentics, which were really useful. I must have a great many patches of colour in my Napoleonic armies today which come from the world of model railways, though the original pots solidified and were ditched decades ago. I recall that for a long time you could not get a decent orange or crimson shade in the standard Humbrol ranges, so I had a pot of an orange paint intended for painting the coachwork lining on railway carriages (company and date unknown), and to this day the pennons of the Vistula Lancers show a deep crimson which started life as LMS Maroon.

One slight issue with the railway colours was that the authenticity extended to the degree of gloss, and they expected you to know what was what. LMS Maroon, for example, was a semi-gloss. At first I used to add Humbrol’s flatting agent to quieten down the shine, but I realised pretty quickly that leaving the paint as it was and applying matt varnish over the top was the way to go. For reasons I cannot remember, I started very early to use Cryla Acrylic matt medium as a glaze, and I am still delighted with it. Forty years down the line, it is as clear and pure as when it went on, which is very much preferable to the subsequent yellowing and crystallization of the solvent-based varnishes I used from time to time. Humbrol’s clear varnish of the day was not a long-term answer to any question at all.

Yesterday I was travelling about a bit, and took the opportunity to visit a branch of a large chain of wargaming model shops, which happens to sell Citadel paints. Not my most comfortable environment, but I thought I’d risk it. First problem was the paint rack – they had both the old and the new names on display, and the stuff was not well enough sorted for me to find my way around it. I was going to ask for some clarification of what the “layer” paints were, so I hovered near the check out for a while.

The young man at the checkout was deep in conversation on his smartphone, enthusing about an army of Darklings[?] a colleague was preparing. That’s right – you guessed correctly – they were awesome. After some five minutes of this, I remembered my new theory that somehow the special lighting in these particular shops does not reflect normally from me, and the young man would not be able to see me. I also realised how humbling it would be to have to ask for an explanation of white paint, so I left quietly, wondering if the CCTV could see me.

I subsequently visited a very large, independent model shop in the same city which sells everything you could think of, apart from Citadel paints. The staff in this shop can see me perfectly, and they are always very focused on the possibility of someone pinching a radio-controlled aircraft or a dolls' house and walking off with it. Anyway, I found the rack of Humbrol railway paints, which are now acrylic, of course, and which still offer an interesting range of unusual shades. I got some plain matt white, and something called RC417 (RC = Rail Colour), which was described on the rack (though not the pot) as “off-white for carriage roofs”. Could be just the thing for ECW stockings and suchlike.

A humble purchase, but I was pleased to renew my acquaintance with railway paints. Really quite nostalgic.

Thursday 21 February 2013

More Horse

No - it's OK - this isn't another advert for the supermarket's Value Range lasagne dinner for one, it's the arrival of some more real quality for my ECW armies. Once again Lee has done a lovely job, as you will see.

Here are Shuttleworth's Lancashire Horse...

...and Prince Rupert's Regiment of Horse.

The officer in the second unit is not Rupert himself, of course...

...this is Rupert.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Hooptedoodle #81 - The Orchestrion

Good grief. I am gobsmacked. My gob has seldom, if ever, been so soundly smacked.

I am a really big fan of Pat Metheny, guitar player, composer and good all-round working genius. You may not care for his music, you may not even be aware of him – he’s not everyone’s cup of Darjeeling, to be sure, and much of his work falls between categories in a way which some people find uncomfortable. That’s all OK – I would like to direct your attention to The Orchestrion.

I was aware of his Orchestrion Project, which he has been working on for a while. In addition to his work with his own (and other) groups, he has done a number of solo albums in recent years – including film soundtracks, which involved a lot of multirecording. I don’t know enough about it to attempt to explain exactly why the Orchestrion concept came up, but he appears to have become seriously interested in (obsessed with?) the idea of building a monster music-playing machine – a big robot thingy which plays lots of real instruments. I guess it is computer controlled, but the instruments are real things made of wood and brass and stuff. It now exists – he even does concerts with it.


What a brilliant thing to do – look at it! What a fantastic, mind-blowing, overgrown kid’s fantasy. Imagine just being in the room with it – wow. Metheny must be up there as a serious nomination for Loony of the Century So Far, certainly in the sub-category Musical Loony. I am mightily impressed – but it’s more than the technical ingenuity or the quality of the kit, it’s the in-your-face, over-the-top scale of the thing. In the heart of every small boy worth his salt, there must always have been the seeds of this kind of crazy dream. It’s a wild extrapolation of all those wonderful old fairground organs and polyphons that have always fascinated me. God bless anyone who has the ability and the resources to make such a thing manifest, and the more pointless – and expensive – the better.

Of course I would like to have a shot on it, and of course it would take me about five minutes to realise that programming it must be a colossal chore – I imagine Pat has a crew who help him with it. But just look at it – and see if it puts a stupid grin on your face, as it does on mine. 

Hooptedoodle #80 - Just an Alternative View

What you see is what you get
A friend drew my attention to a recent experience on eBay - no problem, just a little puzzling. He was interested in the item pictured above, which appears to be 20mm cavalry of some sort, and is described as "decent paint job".

Since he felt that the seller might have attached the wrong photo (which does happen, you know), he sent a note to ask if these were indeed painted, since they didn't look like it, and received a prompt, friendly reply to confirm that the paint consisted of primer, with the odd spot of colour.

Which is pretty much what we see. I was intrigued by this. Doubtless the primer and the odd spots have been decently applied, but this is not the usual understanding of a decent paint job. Ignoring stuff like commercial misrepresentation and all that, which is too heavy, there is obviously a wider range of interpretation of what painted means in this context - which is where the photos come in very useful on eBay.

Every day I see breathtaking examples of miniature soldier painting online - my current favourite gawping site, among so many, is the Castles of Tin blog - and it occurs to me that we all have our own standards and definitions. It also occurred to me that, comparatively speaking, my own standard of painting is rather nearer the primer and blobs end of the spectrum than I would wish, but luckily I found a letter from the Tax Office to take my mind off the topic.

Sunday 17 February 2013

Sunday Morning - This and That

Firstly, here are two new foot units for my ECW armies. The grey chaps are the Parliamentarian regiment of Colonel John Moore (that's John Moore of Bankhall, Kirkdale, Lancashire - noted as the Parliament diarist and regicide - everyone should have a hobby), and the others are the Royalists of Robert Byron (brother of Lord John). I liked the officer, who reminds me a bit of the Mouseketeers (out of Tom and Jerry? - en garde, Monsieur Pussy-Cat). He is from SHQ, and is a fair enough match for his men, who are Les Higgins castings - it is reasonable that he should eat better than the rank and file.

I had a nice email from Amanda, in Sweden, asking me if I could put some more of my home-made flags on the blog again. Always happy to oblige, here are the flags for today's new units. If they are useful to you, please feel free to use them - enlarge the image and download the big version. I print the image at 51mm high, which suits my men, who are a little smaller than 1/72 scale. Please remember that these are complete bunkum - just a guess. The colonel's colour for Moore's shows the family crest.

I've been doing a little more work on the proposed trip to the Danube, pencilled in for September now. Current outline is to fly to Vienna, hire a car and drive to Regensburg for 3 days, then return to Vienna for a further 4 days. The first part of the trip aims to take in Ingolstadt (maybe), Abensberg, Landshut and Eggmuhl, with appropriate intake of cream cakes, coffee and beer. Vienna has so much to offer that we don't really know what our priorities are yet, but cakes and beer will figure there also. Work continues.

I dug out an old map of Germany, and found that it is the Baedeker one I bought in preparation for a family holiday in Bernkastel, on the Mosel, in 1987. Which means, of course, that it shows the border between East and West Germany - my son was fascinated that there was a border around Berlin. How time passes - and how odd that all seems now.

Thursday 14 February 2013


The refurbished Minifigs OPC cuirassiers are now repainted as the Coraceros Espanoles, and seem quite cheerful about the change of nationality after some 45 years being French. They will never be beautiful figures, but they are businesslike and will give the Spanish army some much-needed heavy horses. Since they don't have the trademark sticking-out horizontal tail, I think these are not Alberken, but they are definitely some form of 20mm Minifigs casting, and they are early enough to have horses that look like Hinton Hunt horses. The trumpeter is a broken cuirassier trooper with an arm-graft from a Kennington figure - not a prize nomination, but he will be fine.

Working with figures as old as this is interesting - the relative lack of detail in the castings, yet the satisfying vigour in the poses. It seems a little incongruous to have troops like these on the same table as Art Miniaturen and NapoleoN, but it works without problems. Like all well-behaved one-piece cavalry, these little chaps are determinedly holding their swords along the plane of the mould join, for reasons which are not aesthetic, but I was reluctant to try doing much bending and re-animating, since I have previous in the specialist field of breaking old figures.

Anyway, they are off to live in Spanish Nationalist Box File No.5, and will be ready for heroics when required.

The new pots are an improvement? Discuss...

My painting reminded me of my puzzlement over the new-generation pots from Citadel. Never mind the change of naming - I had only just got used to Snot Green and now they have got Miss Bentham's class at Beaconsfield Primary to rename the entire range during their lunch break. My real problem is I don't see how the new pots are an improvement. The old ones give you a nice little palette in the underside of the lid when you open them, the new ones don't - I am not sure how you are supposed to use these.

I'm not sure, but I think that some of the earliest of the new pots I bought had a thin tongue of plastic which clicked into place and held the pot open in a helpful manner, but none of the pots now seem to have this, so maybe I imagined it. I attempted to build a scaffold out of BlueTac to hold the pot with it's lid open wide, but the scaffold was several times the weight of the pot, and there was a close call when everything slipped and I nearly got crimson paint all over my desk, so I've abandoned that idea.

By the way, something weird seems to have happened to Blogger this morning - embedding pictures and so on uses different screens, and there is a lot less control. Not to worry - musn't grumble.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Choppin' & Changin'

This is about my latest attempt at a long-running project to produce some decent 1812-vintage British dragoons for my Peninsular War armies. I have a couple of units in the post-1812 uniform, with the French-style Doric helmet, (one of S-range Minifigs and one of PMD) but they are not really correct for the Peninsula. Well, that's not quite true, but they require more justification than I would wish, and I would really like some chaps in big boots and bicornes and laced jackets.

Like this

I managed to get some Hinton Hunt figures, but after a lot of glaring and head-scratching I decided they were really a bit small to make convincing heavy cavalry in the context of my armies. Next good idea was to obtain some Minifigs BNC9s - the S-Range heavy dragoon with bicorne. Very good - all you would think I would need then would be a source of BNC19s and BNC29s, the corresponding trumpeter and officer, and everything would be fine.

Alas, no. After an appropriate amount of swotting up in Carl Franklin and C C P Lawson and elsewhere, I realise there is a problem. The S-Range figure has a long-tailed coat, not to mention a pigtail. According to my books, the long-tailed coat for dragoons and dragoon guards was discontinued in 1796, and these units wore a short-tailed jacket with lace bars and with turnbacks in the regimental facing colour, along with the bicorne. The S-Range figure would be fine for the Life Guards or the Blues in 1812, but not for dragoons or dragoon guards. Bother.

I have a couple of units of 1812 KGL heavy dragoons by Falcata, and these are correct apart from the fact that they have the distinctive KGL bicorne, worn fore-&-aft with brass chinscales, which does not seem to have been worn by any other British units. I have a fair number of spare Falcata men left over, so my latest idea is to behead some of the KGL boys and give them Minifigs heads, and that has become this week's reason for getting my fingers covered in cuts and superglue.

Thus far I've done a trooper and a trumpeter - I have a few ideas for an officer, including using a KGL one unaltered, or a KGL one fitted with a new head, wearing a stovepipe shako with the peak filed flat, in imitation of the watering cap used at this time - I have a couple of potential donors of such a head among my box of broken NapoleoN figures (and the very frail muskets on the NapoleoN Peninsular Brits ensured that I have quite a few broken spares).

I'll put a smidgin of Milliput around the joins, to avoid the wasp-like neck which grafts usually give me, and it should be OK. This is probably the best conversion prototype for dragoons of this period I've produced to date. No - you're not getting to see the earlier ones. There is an excellent old Scots word comes to mind - haunless (literally handless) - meaning inept, clumsy, incompetent.


This sort of thing doesn't help. This plate for British heavy cavalry in the excellent Histofig online resource perpetuates the error - the two figures on the left, with the long-tailed coat, should have white turnbacks, and this long coat was not issued after 1796. There is a missing uniform - from 1796 to 1812 dragoons wore a short jacket (like the illustration at the top of this post) with turnbacks in the regimental facing colour. Figs 1a & 1b here are an incorrect hybrid. How can mere wargamers be expected to get this right when the gospels are wrong?

Sunday 3 February 2013

Edinburgh Castle

Yesterday I took my son to visit Edinburgh Castle. We tried to get there last year, but found ourselves at the back of a 3-hour queue for tickets, so thought better of it. Yesterday we took advantage of a truly beautiful day and the slack tourist season, caught the local train from North Berwick, and we were at the Castle gates by 10:30 – excellent.

We had a really good trip. I can’t remember being at the castle for 20 years at least, though I used to go there a lot – for a little while I was doing some research at the Scottish United Services Library, courtesy of Bill Thorburn and Bill Boag, and I was a frequent visitor. Had a temporary pass and everything. That is as near as I ever got to being a military type.

It’s changed a lot. The War Museum is all newly laid out, and I think may be in a different building now – it’s very well done, anyway. I found Sir John Moore’s hat, and duly noted that the caption has been changed. They used to claim that it was the hat Moore was wearing at Corunna, but now it states that it is a hat previously owned by Moore, which was kept as a memento by his friend Lord Lynedoch (that’s Sir Thomas Graham to you and me). Let’s just assume it was on his head at Corunna, shall we?

We visited the Scots Dragoon Guards museum, and also the excellent little Royal Scots museum, which is just next to it, and which gets rather light traffic because the tourists have just done the Dragoon Guards, and it looks like it might be more of the same. Very good, anyway.

We watched the One-O’clock Gun being fired (BANG!), and enjoyed what was obviously an otherwise quiet day up there. Great views over the city and over the Forth Valley. We didn’t bother with the Scottish Crown Jewels – history or no, that’s girly stuff.

It’s good to take the trouble to visit your local tourist sites – it’s so easy to take them for granted.

The Grand Old Duke of York - at the top of the hill

Gunner's eye view - good position to put an 18pdr shot into the
Balmoral Hotel, or the Bank of Scotland, or the fantastically expensive
apartments in Patrick Geddes' lovely Ramsay Gardens

The Royal Scots storm San Sebastian - flat wooden figures

Issued to all storming parties

WW2 poster - I wonder how many servicemen spent their
leave helping with the harvest?

WW1 recruitment poster - the happy boys go off
to fight for the Empire 

To close, an old - and probably apocryphal - tale of Edinburgh's One-O'Clock Gun. I don't know much about the history of the gun, but it has been fired every day except Sunday for as long as anyone can remember, officially as a time-check signal for shipping in Leith Docks, but also as a tourist tradition and a sort of family planning aid for the city's pigeons.

At some unspecified time in the distant past, the story goes, it came to be the turn of some local reservist unit to carry out the ritual firing. The officer in temporary charge of the task found that the procedures, which involved telegraph messages from Greenwich and a dropped signal cone (on the Nelson Monument, at the far end of Princes Street), were far too complicated for the Reserves. Using his service issue binoculars, he could easily see the big clock in the concourse at Waverley Station, and so his boys duly fired the damn thing when that clock said one o'clock, and then, presumably, they retired for refreshment.

Sadly, the railway company also had procedures and traditions, and one of these was that they used to keep their station clocks five minutes fast to encourage their passengers to be there in time. On the first day of this new, improvised system, when the gun went off, a little man appeared at the station, checked his official pocket watch, shook his head and arranged for the clock to be advanced the regulation five minutes. The following day, the same - station clock shows one o'clock, boom, the man checks his watch and fixes the clock. After a few days things were getting very confused - the citizens of Edinburgh were disgruntled with the gun going off earlier and earlier, and the customers of the railway were not happy either. Goodness knows what the ships made of it all.

I think there are lessons there for all of us. If there are established ways of doing things, have a good think before you change anything.

And if you are out at night, wear something white.

Unless it's snowing.

Friday 1 February 2013

Hooptedoodle #79 - A Trick of the Light

You see, the first problem is that my son (who is 10), is very enthusiastic about astronomy, and the Universe, and all that, and has been since he could first assemble a few words into a question. He is the one who asked me once, after tea, could I explain a few more details of the Big Bang.

Is it true that nothing existed at all before the Big Bang?

Well, you can’t really talk about “before the Big Bang”, since it is widely held that time itself began at that instant. I think you can say, though, that we know of nothing which existed outside the time between the BB and now.

In that case, says the enthusiast, what was it that exploded?

Confound me if he hasn’t put his finger on the one bit of this that I can’t get the hang of.

Remember, I reply, that your grandmother is coming tomorrow, and you have to tidy your room before bedtime.

I try not to worry about this stuff, but vertigo lies in wait if I start to reason things out. On a fine, clear night I can stand in our garden and – since we live far away at the Front of Beyond, where there is very little light pollution – I can enjoy a magnificent big, northern sky full of stars.


So what is it we can see? Each of those tiny points of light is a glimpse of a glowing mass which is (or was) so far distant that the light has taken a long time to get here. Everyone knows this. Even I know this. So the light which I can see – without effort and without getting tense about it – has been heading this way for thousands, millions of years. I don’t know how far away these things can be, but that is pretty impressive for a start. Maybe billions of years? – I can’t say the word “billions” out loud to myself without thinking of Prof Brian Cox, whose BBC books are all lined up on my son’s shelf.

So this means that, whatever else, these distant balls are not now in the positions that the points of light would indicate. They themselves will have moved a long way relative to us in the time since the instant of light I am looking at set out. It also means that all these little dots are of very different ages in the snapshot view I have. They may all be sitting peacefully together in the sky above my garden in configurations which we find familiar (well, my son does), but this is a very complex picture indeed. It is more than likely that some of these stars may have died and switched off long before some of the others started to shine. Before they existed. So nothing is as it seems – the stars are not really where they seem to be, and this deception is somehow arranged in time as well as physical space. The history of the universe is all present at once over my garden, and it is, at best, very misleading.

Hmmm. The only way I can come to terms with any of this is to ignore the actual bits of stuff which are/were shining out there, and just accept that space is also full of light flying about the place. The light is real, and a bit of it is here now, and that’s what I can see up there. It comes from a complicated place, at all sorts of durations ago, but I’m best to shrug at that and just look and enjoy it.

OK – that’s all fine then, but I don’t feel I’ve mastered the subject. I certainly haven’t impressed the boy. We occasionally have discussions in which I may say something like, “Imagine you have a very powerful telescope, and you are standing here looking up at a church clock which is on Saturn...” and then we collapse in laughter because the analogy is just daft.

I am reminded of some old pictures I saw at an exhibition, years ago in Edinburgh – so long ago that the exhibition was in the Waverley Market, before it became a shopping mall, and that is a very long time ago. These pictures were very early pioneering photographs – street scenes, mostly – probably dating from the 1840s or so. One picture fascinated me – it was of Waverley Bridge, just outside where the exhibition was taking place, and the street was clearly recognisable, with the view looking towards the bottom of Cockburn Street (I wonder if the Malt Shovel was open in the 1840s?). The caption explained that the strange, faint smudges on the picture were passing traffic. The photographic emulsions of the day were so feeble that a daylight picture required a very long exposure – maybe as much as an hour, I understand. Passing pedestrians and horse-drawn trams moving through the picture were not recorded properly, but would cause a slight, very blurry streak as they moved through the shot.

I found this absolutely compelling – if the exposure were long enough, I reasoned, some of these trams were not in the street at the same time, yet here they were (albeit unrecognisable) together in the same picture. It was not unlikely that a tram could even turn around at the terminus and come back through the picture again, and so be in the picture as two distinct tram images. On the way home, and for a few days afterwards, this played on my mind. Suppose you had a really long exposure, I thought. Suppose it was a hundred years, and suppose the same rules applied – everything that ever passed along Waverley Bridge in that time would leave a mark on the negative. The streaks would include people who never met, even people who were never alive at the same time. And – of course – I came to no conclusions, and I did not learn anything much, but I enjoyed the game. It’s like the stars – an illusion which has extra interest because it exists in four dimensions – space and time.

If you are still with me and still awake, there is a new development.

A few days ago, Mme La Contesse arrived home after delivering the aforementioned son to his school, and was very impressed by a rainbow she had seen. As she drove up the little hill to the church in our neighbouring village, she had bright sunshine behind her and rain in front of her, and a perfect rainbow appeared, framing the church.

How lovely, I hear you sigh.

Different place, different rainbow, same general idea

Over coffee, we had a short but interesting discussion about rainbows, which mostly proved that, in spite of some formal, classical Optics I did as part of my university Physics course, I know no more than the Contesse, who was spared these scientific excesses. We agreed that a rainbow is an illusion – just a trick of the light – and people will disagree about where exactly it is positioned. Each of us sees it differently – in fact the visual experience we call colours may vary between individuals, though it would seem unnecessarily complicated if that were markedly so. The whole idea of a colour is meaningless without an eyeball to send a signal to a brain. Our main point of agreement was that at any given moment there may be a very great number of places where a human eye could see a rainbow, given the right combination of light, reflecting/refracting water drops and angles, but the rainbow only exists if someone is there to see it. Or does it?

Time to go and tidy my room.