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

Saturday 30 November 2013

Hooptedoodle #110 – Premature Independence?

Don't keep logs in one of these
We recently had a bad experience with our logs-and-kindling box – we had a lovely old wooden blanket box, and suddenly we noticed it was looking decidedly wormy. I took it outside on a dry day and, with loving care, I squirted some anti-worm fluid into a flight hole, and was promply hit by a jet from another hole some 7 or 8 inches distant. This is never a good sign. Our blanket box had turned into something resembling the inside of a Crunchie bar, and we decided it should leave home at once, before this condition spread to other, more structural pieces of timber.

To replace it, we managed to obtain a fine big, open basket to take the logs – it’s even canvas lined, which is a big plus. We still need a lidded box or basket of some sort to take the kindling and the various lighters and cleaning materials which the stove requires, and the challenge has been to find something big enough to do the job.

This week the Contesse found an excellent one online – just the thing – a handsome basket with a hinged lid and carrying handles, just big enough to take one of our usual plastic kindling tubs. It was not cheap, but the seller (based in the West Midlands of England) offers “free shipping to Mainland UK” on orders of this size. Never slow to save the odd baubie, we were won over. 

The very thing...
Not so fast. When we attempted to checkout with our lovely basket, the transaction included a sum of £15 for shipping because – that’s right, you guessed – our postcode is in Scotland. On reading the small print on the website, we find that Mainland UK to this firm means “England and Wales”. We’ve sent them a polite email, querying their policy. We live 40 miles north of the English border, and there is an awful lot of Mainland UK beyond us – I could, of course, arrange to have it shipped for free to a friend in Berwick upon Tweed, and collect it from there, but the Contesse is not sure she wishes to deal with this supplier any further. It’s less to do with our being indignant about being discriminated against (which would be a classic Scottish paradox – we like to be different but not to be left out!) than it has to do with an objection to being stiffed – especially by a bunch of ignorant bastards (as it were).

We are all hoping fervently that talk of Scottish independence will quietly go the way of the Loch Ness Monster and the Darien Scheme, but maybe Royal Mail’s postcode software already knows something we don’t.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Where Have You Been All the Day, My Charming Billy?

Yesterday was Flatpack Day here – I took delivery of a tall, 80cm wide Billy bookcase unit from our trusty Swedish friends at IKEA, and it is now in position in my office, and the job of shifting and re-storing everything I can think of is well under way.

I have even secured it to the wall in the approved H&S manner, so small children may climb up it with impunity (unless I catch them).

I have now moved my soldier box-files from Cupboard No.2 (beyond the door at the end of the office in the photo below) on to the lower shelves of the new unit, as you see, and shifted the wargames terrain boxes from Upstairs Hall Cupboard B into Cupboard No.2 (I hope you're taking notes here), which is much handier, and means that I will no longer be at risk of waking up the entire household when putting away my terrain at 2 am.

That's Billy, in the corner; the white door is Cupboard #2
What is going to happen in Upstairs Hall Cupboard B, then, I hear you ask? It will go back to storing bedding and towels, which is what it was intended for, but that’s probably out of scope for this blog. Maybe.

It’s a fascinating field of study, this constant re-engineering of space to conceal the fact that our armies have become – well, too big, I suppose. Did Warhammer ever do a title on this?

I enjoyed the flatpack job so much I have been thinking of ordering another unit I don’t need, just to build it. The nice thing about IKEA stuff is that it goes together perfectly – everything lines up. No dremel, needle files or pin-vices needed, and no piping around the turnbacks to paint.

In the final picture, you will see the neat fit offered by this size of shelving to A4 box files; grey ones at the bottom are Peninsular War artillery and staff, blue are Peninsular War Spanish and pink (sorry, light red) are ECW. The remainder of the Peninsular troops are still in The Cupboard in the dining room, this being the infamous glazed display bookcase which no-one can see into, since it is fitted with black curtains to keep out the sun…

Monday 25 November 2013

ECW Movement Rates and a Renaissance Joke

My early games with my ECW miniatures rules based on Commands and Colors have shown a common theme – a tendency for the cavalry to race around the place, wiping each other out, while the foot are pretty static in the centre – slow to get into action and ponderous once they get there.

This may well be an authentic representation of what 17th Century warfare was like, but I have been giving some thought to making the foot a little more mobile – nothing outrageous, but a little more – how do you say? – oomph when deploying. For my next couple of games I propose to allow foot to fire only if they stand still, to move 1 hex and still have the capability to initiate a melee combat, or to move 2 hexes with no option to carry out any combat. This double move is not allowed to bring them nearer than 2 hexes (musket range) of any enemy, and must not compromise any terrain rules, so they may not make a 2-hex move if they are within 2 hexes of the enemy, and must stop when they get to 2 hexes from the enemy. I am doing some consistency checking to see how this sits with the terrain rules and the Command Cards.

This change may, of course, distort the entire game, but in principle it seems reasonable, so I propose to give it a trial.

Subject 2 – on my September trip to Bavaria and Austria, I saw the remarkable Glockenturmautomat in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, in Vienna. This astonishing clockwork device was made in Augsburg in 1580. We did not get to see it working when we were there (it’s much too precious for that), but I have subsequently found a little film about it on YouTube (of course). It is an odd piece of whimsy – a tower with bell-ringers working away while some merrymakers are boozing on the balcony. The film shows that, in close up, the weathering of the drinkers makes them look a bit sinister, but it is a terrific piece of workmanship.

If you like a touch of Rabelais in your humour, watch to the end…

Thursday 21 November 2013

ECW - Throwaway One-Liners...

One of the many sets of ECW rules I own is the Athena booklet, The English Civil Wars [&] The Thirty Years War, by Terry Wise, published 1982.

The rules are well set out and explained, but too tactically detailed for my taste, and written orders plus simultaneous movement is a no-no for me, especially since I need a solo capability. They are interesting and informative, though - as you might expect. The introduction makes reference to "subsequent rule books from Athena", but the tantalising bit is where it states:

A second set of rules exists for campaigning in the same period, and this set includes siege warfare.

And? - and…?

In context, I infer that this second set of rules would also, potentially, be an Athena product, authored by Terry, probably with Stuart Asquith. I've had a dig about, done much creative Googling and even asked a few people, but have come up with nothing.

Anyone know anything about this other set of ECW rules? - all clues would be most welcome.

Hooptedoodle #109 - A Special Case

Lack of time to do anything more worthwhile leads me to resort to the cheap YouTube cop-out option again - my apologies.

I don’t watch reality television programmes, of any variety, unless they are exploring the reality of something or someone interesting.

In particular, I detest all TV of the X-Factor type. I don’t find it entertaining, the acts are all poor copies of something which already exists, and almost always completely lacking any spark of originality. More worryingly, I believe that programmes like this add to the post-Lottery, celebrity-obsessed culture which has undermined so many of our society’s precious traditions and values. Most upsetting of all is the rejects heap, where paid and sponsored TV people get to exploit and humiliate the misguided, the deranged and the terminally tone deaf for personal advantage.

However, there are some special cases worthy of exposure…

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Hooptedoodle #108 - Unusual Glimpse of Canadian Wildlife

Someone sent me this, and it cheered me up a bit yesterday. If you've seen it before, and anyone who has had any exposure to Canadian TV will have, then here it is again.

Saturday 16 November 2013

More New Troops

A couple of units of town guards or militia - no muskets...
Yesterday the postie brought me a package of newly painted soldiers back from Lee - the customary lovely job. I've been busy getting them based and equipped with flags. With apologies for the poorly set-up pictures, here's a quick view of what's new before they disappear into the storage boxes.

A lot of Real World stuff going on at the moment, so the war-games have been a bit quiet.

More Royalist gallopers - this is Marcus Trevor's Regt

And a small unit of Firelocks for the Royalists - ready to capture Beeston

Different period - meanwhile, in the Peninsula, here is General Pablo Morillo.
The figure is a bit of a rarity from eBay - this is NapoleoN Miniatures'
Spanish general, which, as far as I knew, never made it into production.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Hooptedoodle #107 – The Mystery of the Missing Shoe Sizes

Today’s practical problem at Chateau Foy. Well, there are several problems, but I’ll spare you the broken gatepost and the window sash cord which suddenly, mysteriously became 12 inches shorter. Today’s treatise is on the subject of shoes.

My son is now 11, and is growing rapidly, as they do. He is, however, one of the youngest in his year at school, and is one of the smaller boys, so I can only assume some of the others are even scarier.

The immediate issue is a class outing to a concert tomorrow night – yes, that’s Friday night. As a brilliant interweaving of recent class projects on WW2 and orchestral music, some unspeakable genius has come up with the idea of sending almost two dozen 11-year-olds to an evening performance of Britten’s War Requiem.

I would welcome suggestions for better ways to turn kids off serious music for life – off the top of my head, I guess it could have been Gorecki, but I can think of no finer recipe for fidgety, bored children and stressed teachers – especially with a one-hour bus trip into Edinburgh and back and a 7:30pm start.

To make everything perfect, the dress order will be “smart casual”. Terrific. It makes sense on official school outings to get the children to wear uniform – it is smart and practical, and Lord knows we are obliged to buy a great deal of it from the approved suppliers. However, they who know best have decreed that smart casual it will be. There will now be a lot of social pressure to compete on the fashion and labels front, such as you might expect at a small, rural, private school.

There is no reason why the kids should behave any differently – there is a substantial clique of the mothers who obviously put a lot of emphasis on this sort of thing – the merit of an individual is judged by the weight of bling they carry to school and the degree of feigned carelessness with which they park the Range Rover. Within the last couple of years I have learned, for example, that there is a league table of prestigious manufacturers of rubber boots. Gosh.

Anyway, the immediate problem is that our son is fresh out of smart casual shoes. He has sports boots, trainers, hillwalking boots and actual school shoes galore, but nothing suitable for tomorrow’s outing. It’s not that he is deprived, you realize – he’s just between shoes (so to speak). No problem – just buy some, and make sure that he is not going to be humiliated by them.

Not so easy – his size is 5.5, which corresponds to US size 6, and takes a narrow fitting. Two days’ intense shopping effort by the Contesse – who is a world-ranked shopper, by the way – have produced nothing. I’ll repeat that – nothing. Boys’ sizes go up to 6, but none of our local shops stock anything over 4. Men’s sizes start at 5, but the shops do not stock anything below 6. Now such shoes must exist, but presumably the shops stock only what they are asked for.

From a scientific point of view, I am very interested in this:
  1. Every man who has feet bigger than size 5.5 must have passed through size 5.5 at some point, and I can’t believe they all went barefoot or stayed indoors when it happened.
  2. Most of my son’s friends had size 5.5 feet (approx.) about a year ago – we need more information about how they managed – we didn’t notice anyone in sandals or anything at the Christmas party, so they must have come up with some solution which has escaped us thus far
  3. It seems we could probably get size 5.5 shoes online, but shopping online for shoes is a dodgy proposition – especially if you take a narrow fitting
  4. Most interesting of all, there is no shortage of girls' shoes in any size you can think of - discuss...
Nature abhors a discontinuity – something has gone wrong here. We have to come up with something by tomorrow night, since even fashionable rubber boots will not do for the concert. A shopping trip into Edinburgh – or possibly New York – might be required.

Why are things always so complicated?

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Hooptedoodle #106 – Charles Folkard (1878-1963)

I’m sorting out my office/den. Since there are now two desktop computers in here, it follows that there are also two desks and, since the books and CDs keep arriving from somewhere or other, a serious outbreak of re-organising is now under way.

A new bookcase is on order, and I managed to bring myself to throw out an old, though working, hi-fi system (ouch!), and shifted a few things around, and suddenly there is space for everything. Two notes, in passing:

(1) I have realised that lying-down A4 box files – such as one might keep soldiers in – fit beautifully, two abreast, in an 80cm-wide IKEA Billy bookcase. Good. Excellent, in fact.

(2) My hi-fi was a decent collection of kit for its day, but its day was long ago, and its main attribute was that it was BIG. Enormous, matt black, separate components – mostly full of dust now – I believe that the unnecessary size was intentional. In those days, big stereo kit was impressive. Maybe small has become the new big, I don’t know, but among those units was the first CD player I ever bought. I was late on the scene with CDs – I’d already collected a mountain of vinyl LPs, the cassettes were starting to pile up, and I didn’t wish to commit to yet another technology switch until it looked as though it might last. The thing that settled the matter, I remember, was that John Scofield brought out a new album called Flat Out, and the title track was only on the CD, for goodness sake. I was so annoyed I just bought the CD – that’ll teach them, I thought – and then, of course, I had to buy a player to go with it. I bought a Kenwood unit – this was back in 1985. All these years later, after I have spent an amount I would rather not think about on optical media, and after a steady stream of broken and worn-out CD players has moved on to the landfill site, that 1985 Kenwood was still going perfectly when I ditched it on Sunday.

Anyway, it’s gone now. No doubt someone will rescue it from the town dump – I hope so.

I’ve been looking at how my books may be arranged once the new bookcase arrives, and I kept getting distracted, finding books I forgot I had, or hadn’t seen for a while. One such is The Land of Nursery Rhyme, which doesn’t sound very promising, but I retrieved it from my mum’s house recently, and the handwritten dedication in the front tells me that my Auntie Monica gave it to me on my first birthday.

As these things go, it is pretty much what you’d expect – the rhymes are nothing extraordinary, complete with the political insensitivity which you would expect, but it is charmingly illustrated throughout by Charles Folkard. Wow – stop right there. I opened the book and was transfixed – some of these illustrations are hard-wired in as some of the earliest recollections I must have. I can remember every picture in that book, though until recently I hadn’t seen it since infancy. The standard forms of elves and medieval kings in my imagination mostly come right out of Folkard - that's quite a legacy when your imagination is as off-beat as mine.

The end-papers show a simple little map which I used to gaze at for hours when I was little. I loved the river running past the villages and into the sea, the windmill on the hill, the whole idea that places fitted together into some kind of a whole. Never mind that the map was of The Land of Nursery Rhyme – it was the concept. I have always loved maps – I used to draw maps of imagined countries when I was 10 – maybe that book got me started. I love to see places from the air – as a toddler I imagined what it would be like to fly like a bird and see the world laid out beneath me. Right through life, I’ve always had a strange fondness for the idea of villages snuggled into valleys in rounded hills – when the radio tells me that it is raining all over Scotland tonight, I have a vision of little communities sheltering in a landscape very much like the work of Mr Folkard, bless him.

Anyway, it’s an image which once intrigued me, and which is still there somewhere in the wiring.

Sunday 10 November 2013

Chester Trip – Preamble

It isn’t Regensburg, but my ECW trip to Chester is on. I’ll be going there with a friend from 1st to 3rd December – the hotel is booked, so we’re going. We have both read John Barratt’s excellent book on the Great Siege, so the idea is to have a look at what remains of the Civil War sites, and the odd pub would be all right too.

Chester is not unfamiliar to me; as a child, I used to visit the place – and especially its zoo – but in those days the journey from Liverpool was a bit of an epic – long and tiring. We didn’t have a car (I had a rich Auntie in the Wirral who had a pre-war Vauxhall, but she didn’t really speak to us), so sometimes the journey involved a train from Birkenhead Woodside station (which I think you would struggle to find now), sometimes not, but it always involved a few of those green Crosville buses. It is an attractive city, and it looks the part for an ECW trip, but I am aware that very little of it dates back to the Civil War. For a start, much of the city was destroyed in the siege, and there have been frequent improvements over the years since then. The walls are marvellous, but a substantial part were widened and turned into a promenade for the townspeople in the 18th Century.

I originally had a picture of a wartime Crosville Guy Arab bus here
- it was pointed out that not only was it too early, but it was probably red.
Here's a proper Bristol Lodekka from the 1950s, with the correct livery of Tilling Green
We’ve made bookings with Ed Abram’s fine Chester Civil War Tours operation – we will definitely be going on the standard tour, and, though the Rowton Moor tour is not officially open so late in the year, we have the offer of going there too if the weather is passable and if the farmer is happy to let us on his fields. Serious walking boots will be taken. There is also an interesting tour of ECW public houses, but we may do that ourselves in the evenings. I was recently walked around the field of Eggmühl by a uniformed fusilier of the 5th Bavarian infantry regiment from 1809, so being taken around Chester by a Royalist gentleman in full period costume for 1645 will be quite normal.

It would be nice to wander a little further afield – Brereton’s trip up to Mostyn is a possibility, as is a quick look at Nantwich, or Beeston Castle – but the main thing we have to decide is what to do about our 4th day. Originally, my colleague found he had to be back in Scotland on the 4th day, but he has subsequently got out of his prior engagement, so an extra day is again available. We could stay on in Chester, of course, but I fancied a trip to Ormskirk – they had a nippy battle there – quick but influential, it effectively finished off the Royalists in Lancashire in the First Civil War apart from the garrisons at Lathom, Greenhalgh and Liverpool. Also, we could have a look for the site of the original Lathom House, pay our respects to poor old Lord Derby, who is interred in the local parish church (in however many separate bits), and – failed trump card! – I have family in Ormskirk who kindly offered hospitality, but, alas, the dates don’t line up and they have other plans! Like many local people must have done in the 1640s when they learned that Rupert or Brereton were coming, they have obviously made quick evacuation arrangements when they heard about our trip. Not a huge problem – we can still go to Ormskirk, or we could go over to Yorkshire and have a look at Marston Moor, or Adwalton (less easy to find), and someone has suggested Pontefract Castle.


Now that we are definitely going, we can approach the details with a bit more focus.

What fun!

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Montrose – History of a Different Feather

James Graham, first Marquess of Montrose
Someone mentioned to me recently that he occasionally finds himself half-way up the stairs, unable to remember where he was going or why. At the time, we laughingly agreed that it was probably a gradual reduction in his ability to multitask rather than full-blown dementia.

Whatever, it rings a not-entirely-comfortable bell with me. Two contexts in which this happens a lot to me these days are

(1) online – trying to remember what it was I set out to do when I’m suddenly surprised to find myself reading a Wikipedia entry for Oswald Mosley (for example)

(2) my reading habits – trying to remember just why this particular book I have in my hand has managed to leapfrog the current reading pile

Over the last couple of days, I have read – and greatly enjoyed – CV Wedgwood’s Montrose, which certainly is a surprise to me, and I am trying to reconstruct just how this happened.

It’s at least partly Old John’s fault. He very kindly sent me some 20mm highlanders a while ago – nice little figures, but not entirely relevant to what I’m working on at  the moment. He said something to the effect that, one day, maybe I might like to extend my interest in the ECW as far as the campaigns of the Marquess of Montrose. I filed that away, alongside similar comments I’d heard from someone else.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been doing a bit of a stock-take on the ECW lead mountain. I’ve pretty much completed what I originally sketched out as my “Phase One” ECW armies – I’ve even gone so far as to add some units of town militia and some firelocks, and there’s some siege artillery starting to collect, so a bit of an extension to the original plan is probably overdue. The ECW spares boxes now contain more Tumbling Dice figures than I thought I had (has anyone else noticed how accumulation of TD figures generates a parallel collection of human heads?), and I have enough to make up some more pike-&-shot units of foot, at least two of which are Covenanters.

Interesting. I hadn’t really thought about Covenanters just yet, though I have always known I would get there. My forthcoming early efforts in the ECW are to be based around Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales in the 1642-45 period, and I have developed (or dreamed up) OOBs for this region at these dates. Covenanters – hmmm – what relevance have Covenanters in Lancashire? I am aware that these chaps were at the Siege of York, and provided a good whack of the troops opposed to Newcastle and at Marston Moor. It is maybe less well known that the Parliamentarian garrison of Liverpool in June 1644 included some 400 to 500 men of Sir John Meldrum’s regiment, who were Scottish, or that Sir William Brereton tried (unsuccessfully) in February 1645 to get some of the Scottish foot seconded from Yorkshire to help with his attempt to capture Chester. Also, of course, given even as tenuous a link as that, my own fake history of the war in Lancashire can easily be fudged to include any number of the fellows.

So, belatedly, I dug Start Reid’s Osprey title on Scottish ECW soldiers out of the bookcase, and I had a squint at the very useful army generation lists in the back of the Forlorn Hope rules, and Old John’s words echoed from somewhere, and Montrose was mentioned, and suddenly I decided I had better find out more about this, so I also dug out CV Wedgwood’s book on the ill-fated hero (that’s Montrose, not Old John) and got started.

A great read. Classic, story-telling, popular history, free of densely interwoven references. It isn’t a very big book, it has some nice pictures, it may even (whisper it) have quite large print, but I romped through it, and I learned a lot about Montrose – though I have to say I knew hardly anything about him before.

Archibald Campbell, first Marquess of Argyll
He even has a black hat, for goodness sake...
This is kind of ironic, since I frequently sound off here about my enthusiasm for old-fashioned historical writing, but I did get a bit worried about the fact that the reading was so pain-free. I checked – a couple of times – to see if it was a book for children. Having spent a fair amount of time lately reading (and enjoying) Esdaile, and Rothenburg and suchlike, I was reminded that Ms Wedgwood is a breath of fresh air, but somehow this book was strangely unconvincing. I didn’t expect to find anything as dull (or useful) as OOBs, but I was surprised how partial this biography is. Montrose is a hero – he’s handsome, gifted, brave, noble and tragic all at once. His soldiers are always outnumbered, yet (for a while at least) claim crushing victories against all the odds. His opponents are mean-minded, ugly, cowardly and cruel, and generally perform like a nasty version of the Keystone Cops. I am not used to history being quite so clear cut, to be honest…

OK – what I have to do next is capitalize on my new enthusiasm and find some rather more detailed (I came close to writing “factual”) work on Montrose. It would be remarkably silly – even by my standards – if I finished up building up little armies for Montrose’s campaigns just so that I can utilize Old John’s highlanders, but stranger things have happened. It would also be silly if I did it just because Veronica Wedgwood had a bit of a thing about James Graham. I need to have a look at some rather more dense writing on the period, and think what to do next.

One big attraction is that the forces involved are small (if I only knew what they were…), so it would not be a very big digression, as these things go.

Hmmm. But why Oswald Mosley?

Saturday 2 November 2013

Hooptedoodle #105 - The Automaton Which Writes

You may have seen this before - I hadn't. This slightly scary clip about an 18th Century clockwork figurine which can do handwriting has excited and troubled me in equal measure. Robots are fun but a bit disturbing anyway, and I keep finding myself wondering how such a device might get on with the cross belts on a regiment of Spanish fusiliers.