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

Saturday 30 March 2013

ECW Horse - another 2 units

Another two units of horse arrived for my ECW armies - usual lovely job by Lee. Here you see the first of what will be two units for the Earl of Newcastle's Northern Horse [R] - this lot might be Sir Edward Widdrington's regiment - and the more sedate chaps below them are John Lambert's RoH [P].

We are very close to a White Easter - two inches of snow this morning, though it appears to be melting now. I really am very tired of this. I need to understand - this is Global Warming, right? During this last week I was reminded that it is just a year since I went to visit Old John in North Wales, and to collect the first instalment of my ECW lead mountain. Two things about this:

(1) it doesn't seem a year ago

(2) on the 27th March last year, it was sunny and hot - rather too hot for a comfortable motor trip

Same world, different planet.

Thursday 28 March 2013

Boom in Very Old Property Continues

I've been pretty much out of things for a fortnight with the accursed flu, which, as ever, has hit harder and lasted longer than my own patience or the available sympathy window allows.

Better today - going into Edinburgh to see a concert tonight, armed with sucky sweeties to avoid my coughing the acts into silence. On the hobby front I've done a few lightweight organisation chores - fitting out more A4 box files with steel paper - stuff like that - and I've continued to work away at my supply of 15mm buildings for the ECW. Steady progress continues, though I may eventually convince myself to do a little re-work to tone down a couple of my paler thatch roofs. These little Hovels castings are really nice to work with, though I'm finding the finished buildings are a bit of a nuisance to store safely.

As I've progressed through the stock of unpainted resin over recent weeks, I did a lot of checking with the painted examples on Hovels' website, to see how they are intended to look, and as my confidence has grown I have found that I am frequently setting about doing something different. In particular, since my intended theatre for the ECW is the North West, I've had a go at producing some buildings which are a bit less obviously Cotswold Stone than standard. I am pleased with the little brick smithy shown here, and especially with the Bunter Sandstone mansion house, though it does bother me a bit that it looks like a childhood memory of Rathbone Road school in Liverpool - if it had bright green railings it would be the complete thing.

I'm going to have a go at a dark sandstone church next. And a timber windmill, though the mill is a real construction kit job with cast metal sails and everything.

I've been reading David Johnson's Adwalton Moor of late. It is written in heavily correct "thesis" style, and took a little getting into, but I have been won over. Great little book. The detective work involved in unscrambling old references and old maps, to get a picture of the battlefield as it was in 1643, is especially fascinating. I have also been very impressed by the accepted de facto form of classification of events in the ECW into "of general interest" and "of interest only to local study groups" - a whole pile of stuff I have suspected but never seen written down before. Recommended book for any ECW enthusiasts.

For anyone who is interested in the funny way us northern folk speak, Adwalton appears to have been pronounced "Adderton" or even "Atherton" in 1643. By 'eck.

Friday 22 March 2013

My Peninsular War Armies - Spanish Nationalist

One outstanding gap in my occasional series of Team Photos is the Spanish Nationalist army. This picture has been long-promised, but has never appeared in a decent form because I am always waiting to fill some conspicuous vacancy or other.

Well, here they are - circa 1811 or thereabouts, as of today. I am still short of a few generals, a little cavalry and (of course) a few limbers, but not far off at all now.

The structure is based on two infantry divisions, each consisting of two brigades of regulars plus one of volunteers and militia. The cavalry is short of a couple of units, which are likely to end up as some form of variegated hussars (though they will probably be nominally cazadores or mounted grenadiers). To the right of the rather informal collection of cavalry you see a couple of brigades of full irregulars (and fine chaps they are).

This, then, gentlemen, is my Spanish army, and I would certainly not recommend anyone to smirk at them too lightly...

Friday 15 March 2013

Hooptedoodle #83 – Watching TV Through My Fingers

An Appeal on Behalf of the Socially Impaired

For the last 36 hours or so I’ve been suffering from a Spring virus thing – nothing dramatically serious, but I’ve been sleeping a lot, been bothered with joint stiffness and had a generally severe cold. Since Mme la Contesse has something much closer to a real life than I do myself, it is important that she gets to sleep, so I’ve had a self-imposed exile to the guest bedroom in the attic, to keep the coughs and sneezes away.

The attic is not used regularly, so it tends to be a bit colder and have bigger spiders than the master bedroom. On the other hand, it does offer some minor crumbs of solace – the facility to watch TV programmes of minority content and unusual timings being one. Last time I was in there I think I watched Gods and Generals yet again, which has a lot going for it, since if I doze off I have a good idea of what I have missed.

This time I unsealed a new box set of DVDs of Curb Your Enthusiasm, which one of my grown-up sons kindly got me for my birthday recently. I’d never seen this show, but had heard good reports of it. In fact, I found it decidedly uncomfortable, for reasons which I’m not awfully happy with. Now I’m not the slightest bit sorry for myself – not looking for sympathy – I’m actually laughing at myself here, and am simply working on the theory that it’s good therapy to poke at your demons a bit.

Last time I felt this degree of discomfort with a TV comedy series was Ricky Gervais’s The Office, which I still believe to be a brilliant show, but I couldn’t watch it because the David Brent character said things which I suspect I used to come out with myself in the past when I returned from management training courses. It’s not even as though the context of the show was comfortingly artificial – anyone who had worked, as I had, for a large employer who so obviously based their Corporate Mission Statement on Dilbert cartoons would have found the fictional working environment pretty familiar.

Cringe maker - The Office
I think maybe there is a clue there – I didn’t care for the Brent character because it reminded me of parts of myself which I dislike, and there was no element of a convoluted or unnatural setting to provide a handy explanation. I have spent many years laughing heartily at the efforts on film and TV of the socially inept. From Tati’s lovely Monsieur Hulot to the cast of Black Books, Mr Bean to (a special favourite) the incompetent interviewer on the old British TV series People Like Us. All these are relaxed, and are not threatening at all. Either the main character is likeable or, as in Mr Bean’s case, the story line is so far-fetched that it is not realistic.

Back to the present situation – I have to say I have something of a chequered past with American TV comedy. I used to like Cheers and Taxi, which represented my earliest exposure to non-PC US comedy. You can see why these shows worked without upsetting too many people – any odd behaviour or expressed views were a result of the neurotic imbalance of the cast. Anyone who said anything rude or politically abrasive was playing a wacky character who did not know any better.  They were not representing the editorial standpoint of the show or the station. Both of these series ran for a long time, but eventually I found them formulaic and rather lost interest. Then there was the astonishing Married with Children, which was like nothing I’d seen before from American TV. I was a real fan for a while. The Al Bundy character was a ready-made (if minor league) anti-hero for all oppressed, post-feminist, hen-pecked bread-winners all over the Western World. There was no pretence at all of political correctness – I recall an occasion when Al’s wife told him that his dog was stupid. Al’s response was to whistle to the dog, and get it to jump off the couch and walk into the kitchen – an act, he claimed, which was beyond his wife’s own abilities. Also the banter between the daughter and the son – especially concerning sexual preferences – sailed much closer to the prevailing wind of the day than we were used to.

The magnificent Al Bundy - a hero to many
Al Bundy got me into trouble once. I had an account manager named Carl, who worked for the mighty Knowledgeware Corporation of Atlanta (now gone and forgotten). One afternoon in Atlanta I mentioned to Carl that I was a fan of Married with Children, and that I had left instructions at home while I was away to record the next instalment, in which the special guest was to be BB King.

Alas, Carl’s wife was an active member of Christian Mothers of America (I think), which group was working to get all subversive programming removed from TV – and Al Bundy was a priority target. Carl (who, strangely, also seemed to be a Christian Mother) was very embarrassed to have to tell me that his wife had thought better of inviting me for dinner to their home (in a gated community outside Atlanta) on account of my reprehensible tastes in TV comedy. Carl – to give him his due – was totally honest about the problem. If it had been me, I’d have made up some downright lie about my wife being indisposed, but Carl went to some lengths to describe how strongly his wife felt about this. He said that she and her colleagues felt there was a need to get back to “traditional American values” on TV – it was only a few years previously, said Mrs Carl, that “people like BB King” would not have been allowed on a family show. Erm – pardon? Pick your own mix of traditional values...

And then there was Friends.

I freely admit that I may be the only person in the Supposedly Free World who disliked Friends. I couldn’t be doing with it. The central characters were expensively-presented young things (younger than me) who displayed life values which to me appeared self-consumed and profligate and typified a number of things that worried me about the way society was changing. Much of the humour consisted merely of talking about the lumpy bits in their relationships – ad nauseam – without many actual gags. It may have been new, but it was thin. American TV seemed to have arrived at this point - where you could now make entertainment out of previously uncomfortable subjects – maybe some 15 years after British TV had been through the same stage, and made all the same mistakes over again.

Yet it was huge. Everybody except me loved it. Much of the talk in my office dining room and in the pub was of the story lines from Friends – what he said to her, and what she said afterwards, and what so-and-so thought about it. My own friends genuinely worried about my non-involvement, to the point of offering to lend me sets of DVDs to get me up to speed. No thank you. If someone tells me I have to watch something, the chances of my actually watching it reduce as a result.

So I got kind of used to not watching American comedy shows. I’ve never seen Seinfeld, though it is highly thought of by some friends whose opinions I respect. I know the production team from Seinfeld are involved in Curb Your Enthusiasm, so was happy to give it a go. It’s The Office all over again. I can see elements of myself in the Larry David character which I really do not care for. It’s cleverly done – I understand that they set a storyline, and much of the dialogue is improvised, so it has a natural, real life quality. Admirable. The main character cannot understand why his wife so often feels compelled to intercede on his behalf, and even apologise for him. Ouch. His attempts at relaxed humour with sales assistants and bar staff cause embarrassment and confusion, and TILT signs abound. He can no more handle the social nuances and conventions of small-talk than he can comprehend that small-talk actually exists as a real form of communication. Ouch. Ouch.

Maybe I’ll come back to it. Maybe next time I’m ill?

Wednesday 13 March 2013

The Spring Quiz - results

I won't be around to do anything with this tomorrow, and I've had no responses at all for the last week about the Quiz, so I'll close it a day early, with my sincere thanks to the 22 people who submitted entries - or comments and (mostly) emails which looked like entries.

I very much enjoyed reading the explanations and reasoning - it was possible to score as many points for an entertaining justification of the wrong place as for no justification at all for a near miss. Thank you again to anyone who took part, or who thought about it but didn't send an entry.

My two winners are JohnPreece, who scored highly all round and was a remarkable half a kilometre out, and Vive l'Empereur, who did a good line in reasoning and finished up with a stab which was only 40 Km off. I also read some nice reasons why it was Portugal, or Spain, or Greece, or Provence. In fact the photo was taken on private land, from the access road at the wine production estate of La Mormoraia, looking almost due south towards the ancient town of San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy, which is the collection of towers on the hill in the distance. Access to the winery is off the minor road linking San Gimignano with Certaldo, just north of the hamlet of Sant' Andrea. I reckon this is 3.5 Km as the crow flies, so John was very close indeed.

I stayed with my family in a self-catering apartment at La Mormoraia that year - in a heatwave! - and became a loyal and regular customer at the big Co-op in San Gimignano, which has splendid air-conditioning. The estate is a phenomenal place for a holiday - everything that Tuscany is supposed to be - and the house wine is a bit special too.

The best of the runners-up were Jiminho, Prof De Vries, Mrs Crick, Angelo, Xaltotun of Python, Paul Dempster, Martin S, Dino Di Monnaco (who lives just a few miles from the target area), Patrick Walsh and rosso471.

I'll contact the winners to get postal addresses for the prizes. Thank you all again. You have helped make a happy man very old.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

More Old Houses

Last night I moved on to a couple of the half-timbered buildings, which require some new techniques, and learned quite a lot. In my boyhood, I had a sad experience with the old Airfix OO inn, and was scarred by it. I now realise that I tried too hard - you can't paint everything that's there, and if you do manage to succeed it will just look like a model of a house, rather than a house. [With the greatest of respect, Airfix kits never looked like real houses anyway.]

In fact, painting the Hovels buildings is a delight, because the sculptor has made such a nice job of them that all you have to do is identify what is there, and let it emerge by itself - the rougher the dry-brushing the more building-like will be the results. The half-timbered houses appear to come in two types - one is the expected finish, with the gaps between the beams plastered, and the other has the gaps filled with wicker, or maybe it is wattle-without-the-daub, choose your nomenclature.

The biggest act of faith is finishing off the whole building with the driest of dry brushings of a Dulux shade called "Khaki Mists 3" (which is not exactly poetic, you marketing people), to make it look dirty - to stop it looking like a kid's drawing of a newly built house on a Pergamon estate. Or so I imagine, in my apprenticeship - the act of faith is trusting that the brush is dry enough - too much paint and I am basically going to have to start all over again. An experienced eye might check what I've done and chuckle, "oh no - not the Khaki Mist 3 overbrush..."

Anyway - excellent entertainment for a snowy evening. While painting some terracotta pantile roofs, I was reminded that such tiles are very common in rural areas around here in East Lothian. A visitor once commented to me that some of the old cottages here have a surprisingly Mediterranean look for the Frozen North, and the answer is exactly straightforward - the roof-tiles are Mediterranean, and traditionally so. When the ships carrying coal from the mines of East Lothian used to deliver to Spain and Portugal (and we are talking sailing ships here), they would fill up with the local roof-tiles to ballast them for the return voyage - there was always a steady market for them. Which - in turn - reminds me that when we got our house extension built in 2005 we roofed it with Spanish slate, which seems a pleasing continuation of an old tradition, but in reality was mostly because we couldn't afford Welsh slate, and the council planners gave us a choice of only the two.

Garvald, East Lothian, with roof tiles in evidence
As a silly background task, I am mentally collecting suitable place names for the ECW. My intention is to focus on an area (probably largely mythical) around Lancashire and Lonsdale - though you might struggle to find this area exactly on a historical map. I am very taken with The Perfect Captain's (free download) Battlefinder system, which uses map cards to create battlefields and campaign terrain. I intend to make use of this in my forthcoming efforts, but the names of the places - though excellent - are not quite right for the gruff North. I thought it would be amusing to tweak a personal set of the Battlefinder cards to use more suitable names - it would also individualise the game a bit, which is usually worth the effort.

Thus I hope to have a bit less of the Pumphet Mauleverer and Castle Mauvoisin (I may have made these up) and a bit more Clagthwaite and similar. I love the whole subject of placenames, wherever they are. The North of England has some great names - I think Northumberland and Durham may have the best of the lot. Among so many, my personal favourites include Wide Open, near Newcastle, and the wonderful Pity Me, in County Durham. Long ago, I had reason to write to someone who lived at Hag House Farm, Pity Me, and I still treasure that address as a classic. If you happen to live there, no offence is intended at all, but it conjures up images which would not fit with the more comfortable Home Counties.

Since I am now rambling, I shall close.  

Monday 11 March 2013


Back numbers - a pile of old number labels which have been removed and replaced
Messing around, more like. I got the revised unit numbers all worked out, swapped all the labels over, and am now left with the task of typing up list amendments. I have produced an accurate conversion table, so with a bit of luck I'm hoping to write a little program to use this table to amend the file-names of all my photograph library to match the new numbers.

I realise this is likely to end in tears, so have carefully produced a copy folder to play around with. I'll do this next bit when I've thought about it, and when I'm more awake, tomorrow.

I've also started on painting some 17th Century buildings. There are a lot of these, so I've started with what look like easy ones - I've left the half-timbered stuff until I've got my eye in and my confidence up with the dry-brushing. Good fun so far. These are all Hovels 15mm. I like painting houses, because it's quick and low-stress.

I'd like to be able to claim that the poor lighting didn't show off my house
painting to advantage, but it would be a lie
Thanks to Xavier, who emailed me to point out that the numeric labels on my unit sabots are not actually Blick labels, they are Avery labels. He's correct, of course. I used to use Blick labels of this type, but they are not made now, so I use Avery. The Avery labels are fine, apart from the fact that the adhesive is not so good, and for some reason the set contains a typo - the number 110 does not appear, a duplicate number 100 being printed instead. Probably makes them more valuable. I have a couple of old Blick 110s which have been carefully re-glued a few times.

Best solution is just to withhold number 110...

Friday 8 March 2013

Here Be Dragons - Pitfalls of Planning

The 20eme Dragons, in fact. I'm pleased with these - a chance purchase on eBay, they arrived in good shape. The original paint job was really very good, though the passage of time and a few "improvements" had had an effect.

I got them cleaned up, retouched, based and in the cupboard very quickly - I only received them yesterday afternoon, and I finished them off this morning. Here they are, then, all looking eyes-right and with their carousel horses dancing in step - the best and silliest aspects of Old School in a single picture. They also gave me cause to wonder about a few things...

(1) Since I had already decided that I had more than enough units of French dragoons - in fact I had even sold off and otherwise disposed of a good many such figures already - I am not clear just why I needed these. It may be something about the sight of painted soldiers on eBay.

(2) Further to (1), how is it that a rogue arrival like these chaps can completely leapfrog the existing painting queue and make a mockery of any pretence of planning or prioritisation? Though I guess it is a hobby, after all.

(3) Most serious of the lot, my in-house unit numbering system has now failed. This is the first unit to which I cannot allocate a new number - I've run out of numbers. The end of the French army has just collided with the start of the Spanish. This may not sound serious, but the organisation of the cupboards, the catalogue, the picture library, and even my in-house computerised wargame all rely on these numbers. So, for the third time I can remember, the most recent being some four years ago, I shall have to re-do the numbering. Apart from the admin and the re-naming of the computer records and retyping the spreadsheets, this will require me to replace the little Blick number labels on a great many (probably most) unit sabots for the Peninsular War armies.

My intention is to allocate numbers 1-200 to the French and their allies, 201-400 to the British-Portuguese and their allies, and 401-500 to the Spanish. That should all be OK, leaving a good bit of headroom, and the next bit of head-scratching concerns how to arrange the numbers within these blocks. A man with an IT background like mine can see that certain arrangements are more capable of surviving organisational change and new arrivals than others, but the tabletop fighter in me sees that the most convenient way to address this is to number the units consecutively within the higher army organisation, so that the battalions within the regiments within the brigades within a division, plus their skirmishers and attached artillery, form a single number series which sit next to each other in The Cupboard. At set-up time, and during tidy-up (which is much more of a chore), there are few conveniences to match just moving a contiguous section of a shelf onto the table (and back).

It does mean that any re-organisation or insertion of additional units can cause a bit of hassle, but there's not so much of that these days. Apart from when new, unplanned units like the 20e Dragons arrive in the post.

Changing the numbers is actually rather fun - it does come, admittedly, from the same group of hobby jobs as re-basing, but involves nowhere near the same level of pain. However, because it is quite a pleasant job, it is likely to jump the entire queue of hobby tasks I have in mind - in the same way that the fitting of magnetic sheet to subunit bases and sabots did last year (or was it the year before?). That particular interruption formed a dangerous precedent, because I have been delighted with the results, and it does offer a case in support of changing my mind about things. This really does not help the concept of The Grand Plan at all.

On the subject of getting things done in the right order, I am pleased to present the thoughts of one of my favourite popular philosophers, AA Milne. I think there are familiar echoes in much of this.

The Old Sailor 

There was once an old sailor my grandfather knew 
Who had so many things which he wanted to do 
That, whenever he thought it was time to begin, 
He couldn’t because of the state he was in. 

He was shipwrecked, and lived on an island for weeks, 
And he wanted a hat, and he wanted some breeks; 
And he wanted some nets, or a line and some hooks 
For the turtles and things which you read of in books. 

And, thinking of this, he remembered a thing
Which he wanted (for water) and that was a spring;
And he thought that to talk to he’d look for, and keep
(If he found it) a goat, or some chickens and sheep.

Then, because of the weather, he wanted a hut
With a door (to come in by) which opened and shut
(With a jerk, which was useful if snakes were about),
And a very strong lock to keep savages out.

He began on the fish-hooks, and when he’d begun 
He decided he couldn’t because of the sun. 
So he knew what he ought to begin with, and that 
Was to find, or to make, a large sun-stopping hat. 

He was making the hat with some leaves from a tree, 
When he thought, “I’m as hot as a body can be, 
And I’ve nothing to take for my terrible thirst; 
So I’ll look for a spring, and I’ll look for it first.” 

Then he thought as he started, “Oh, dear and oh, dear!
I’ll be lonely tomorrow with nobody here!”
So he made in his note-book a couple of notes:
“I must first find some chickens” and “No, I mean goats.”

He had just seen a goat (which he knew by the shape)
When he thought, “But I must have a boat for escape.
But a boat means a sail, which means needles and thread;
So I’d better sit down and make needles instead.”

He began on a needle, but thought as he worked,
That, if this was an island where savages lurked,
Sitting safe in his hut he’d have nothing to fear,
Whereas now they might suddenly breathe in his ear!

So he thought of his hut … and he thought of his boat, 
And his hat and his breeks, and his chickens and goat, 
And the hooks (for his food) and the spring (for his thirst) … 
But he never could think which he ought to do first. 

And so in the end he did nothing at all, 
But basked on the shingle wrapped up in a shawl. 
And I think it was dreadful the way he behaved - 
He did nothing but bask until he was saved! 

AA Milne

Late edit - I'm thrilled to bits to report that the bold Stryker has contributed a nice little addition to the verse. It appears in the Comments below but, since no-one ever reads those anyway, I've copied it in here. How marvellous to acknowledge a little class on this blog, for a welcome change!

There once was a wargamer who’d played for a while
Kept changing his mind on the right basing style
That flocking and filler it looks pretty cool
But would they be better all based up Old School?

He lined up his lancers in neat serried ranks
(and sooo wished he’d gone for those King Tiger tanks)
My Romans are finished, but then again no
I’d like some auxiliaries armed with a bow

He tossed and he turned all night in his bed
Trying to work out what to do with his lead
At last I’ve got it (he exclaimed with a will)
I’ll do it all again but in 28 mil!


Hooptedoodle #82 - Disturbing Rumours from London
I was very much concerned to learn that Justin Bieber was taken ill during yesterday's concert at London's O2 Arena, and I am sure that everyone will share my relief in hearing that Mr Bieber was able to continue his show after a brief rest.

A friend of mine who works with a well known international news agency sent me word of some rather worrying rumours which are circulating in connection with this incident. It is suggested that the Metropolitan Police may be searching for this man [pictured below]. This follows recent mention in the press that part of Bieber's stage act coincidently bears a close similarity to the Ritual Death Dance of the Mashco-Piro.

It all goes to show that you really can never be too careful, I think.

Sunday 3 March 2013

The Spring Quiz

It's getting quite Spring-like here in the Land of Mud. I fancy another silly quiz, since I rather enjoyed the last one.The prize this time is interesting (if you like that sort of thing) rather than especially valuable. I have two copies of a CD containing my private collection of French Napoleonic marches and fanfares. All good quality stuff - public domain, but hard to come by. Excellent for motivating the little soldiers, by the way.

Similar arrangement to last time - please have a good look at the following picture, and see if you can work out where it was taken.

(1) Where was I standing when I took this photo? Please be specific - give an actual location, or the name of a nearby village or something - "France" or "California" would be examples of poor answers. (There are up to 10 points available for this, depending how far your answer is in a straight line from the real place. If your answer is too general, I shall place it at the furthest point possible...)

(2) How do you know, or how did you work it out? Also, do you have any thoughts about this? (up to 10 points for this section, with originality, ingenuity and humour scoring high) 

You can comment here (tell me if you don't want it published!) or (probably better) email me through my Blogger profile. I'll send a copy of the CD to each of the two entries I judge to be best. I'll keep this open until March 14th, and publish the exciting results shortly afterwards. When I have some winners, I'll arrange to get postal addresses to send the prizes.

You will want to know that I took the photo at around 10 in the morning, on 17th July 2007, in the northern hemisphere. I'm sorry the picture does not have higher resolution - it's the best I've got...