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

Monday 31 March 2014

ECW - The Marquis of Montrose

I'm not sure that Dame CV Wedgwood would fancy my version much
Since my armies for the campaigns of Montrose are pretty close to ready now, I need to provide a few leaders and a few more frame guns to fill in some remaining gaps. Since we are hardly spoiled for choice of specialty figures in 20mm, I'm having to raid the spares boxes for bits and pieces. Here is the Marquis himself, assembled from various Tumbling Dice bits and an SHQ horse.

He looks slightly more Neanderthal than his portrait, but those artists always took pains to flatter their clients, as we know. His personal standard (all right, actually the King of Scotland's flag, but Montrose used it as his personal standard) is carried on a separate base, which is unusually fiddly for me, but gives the advantage that I can use the Marquis's figure as someone else if I do it this way. Cheapskate Productions' corporate strategy in action once again.

Next on the bottle tops will be an improvised Alasdair Mac Colla, also from TD bits, which will require me to attempt some rough approximation to tartan. I failed to find any tartan paint in the Games Workshop catalogue, so I guess I'll have to try it the old fashioned way.

Once the leaders are better advanced, I'll put in a group photo of the new forces in their current state.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Hooptedoodle #126 – Darwin – Further Evidence


A finger touched the clay, and life began. Good start, thought Babu. But after a while he became impatient with these tiny, ticking, whiskery creatures which he could hardly see, and he ordered a change. 
On this very shore, at the margin of the heaving sea and the shifting land, his will was done. Bewildered encephaloids crawled into the freezing dawn, to begin the work of engineering themselves, through countless generations and mistakes, into reptiles and mammals, and marketing consultants.

Oh well, thought Babu.
From “The Casso Verses” – © Lowgate Publishing 1997

I have to admit that I’ve always had problems with the concepts of evolution. I can sort of understand the principles, but I find the implied numbers mind-blowing. Looking backwards, it looks very orderly - there appears to be a progressive development of the species, in that they became better suited to their environment. Of course, I realise that the theory is that countless other, less successful variants died out, didn’t make it. 
It’s the “countless” bit I have problems with. If genetic variations are just random accidents, and only the odd lucky hits work, then the numbers involved seem improbable – even the existence of the odd lucky hit is a bloody long shot. Anyway, no matter – I am interested in this stuff. I have recently been watching the DVD set of Prof Brian Cox’s Wonders of Life, and have vowed to watch it again, to attempt to understand it more fully. My personal beliefs do not insist that there is some form of conscious will behind this progression, nor do they require that I should be able to understand such a thing if there were one, but I have a lot of trouble accepting that it could work without some form of scripting, without something or someone having had a peek at the answers in the back of the book. I’d like to think I keep an open mind on it, and I also like to think that one day it will make sense to me, but not yet.

To move on from the philosophical to the ridiculous, we may have a little more evidence this morning. In crude terms, my understanding is that some variations and mutations just didn’t work. Birds, for example, which built their nests in dangerous places would be less likely to survive and pass on their instincts and their habits to their offspring. We have one such here, at Chateau Foy.

Yesterday a sparrow fell down our chimney, and ended up in the log stove. This happens very occasionally (though, now I come to think of it, it was blue tits previously), and is not recommended. It is upsetting for the bird, and potentially even worse for the owners of the stove. The stove, of course, was not lit.

We let it out, having opened all the windows, because birds are smart creatures of the wild and can spot the way out of a tight situation (e.g. via an open window) in a flash. The results were disappointing - it flew around, bouncing off the ceiling, for 15 minutes - it left us eventually, but the living room was a disaster area. I was too preoccupied at the time to take a photograph, but here is a picture of a dog which gives the general idea.

You may imagine me, if you will, with my son’s butterfly net, standing on one leg, waving it like a fairy wand about 2 seconds after each time the bird has passed. We should register the film rights. The Contesse performed heroics cleaning up, and about an hour and a half later things were back to normal – a lot of work, and really well done.

Sadly, by this stage the sparrow had once again fallen down the chimney and was back in the stove. Yes – it was the same sparrow; the moron seems to be attempting to build a nest inside our chimney cowl.

Now my instinct at this point was to help speed up evolution and leave the stupid thing there – with luck it would quieten down when it got hungry and would be more amenable to being lifted out. At worst, it might die and we would have strengthened the species as a result. The Contesse, of course, could not contemplate such heartlessness, and we were obliged to let it out again. This time the panic lasted only a couple of minutes – I guess the little chap was tired after the first episode – and the Contesse caught him in the butterfly net before too much damage was done, and took him outside.

I know that you are now nodding, waiting for the next appearance of the idiot sparrow in the stove, and it may still happen, but so far so good. Around 3am - peak thinking hour - I had all sorts of crazed ideas for making a bag out of 10mm plastic mesh and putting it over the chimney pot, even a rough design for a mesh bag which would fit the opening in the stove, so that we had a piece of official kit for rescuing birds from log stoves – maybe both these devices could be patented, and I could make a fortune selling them through Scott’s of Stow, along with the sofa-rug-with-sleeves and their other classic devices for improving the lives of dumb pensioners. Maybe not.

Maybe Scotts of Stow gives us another dark hint about evolution, too.

Here are some photos we took during the second visitation. 

Saturday 22 March 2014

Hooptedoodle #125 - Penguin Design Flaw

All students of Darwin take note. Also, anyone who ever took comfort from the fact that living up stairs would keep them safe from Daleks, here's a clue how to keep penguins at bay.

Friday 21 March 2014

ECW - Never Mind the Quality

Busy, busy
This morning I varnished 180 pre-owned foot figures for the English Civil War – that’s a further 4 Scottish regiments of foot plus 5 non-Scottish (who will be Irish and other things). Sometime over the weekend I shall “grass” the figure bases and mount them on MDF stands. Then I just have some finishing off jobs to do, including flags of various levels of cleverness and interchangeability, and then they can all go into the official Pink Box-Files and I can do Something Else.

The figures are not brilliant, but they are going to work out better than I expected, and I am warming to them as I proceed. They may not be the most beautiful figures I ever owned, but they will be useful, and – by golly – there’s heaps of them. Montrose, here we come. Any week now.

Subject 2 – Banks (yet again) – never mind the quality…

This is the middle of March, as you will have observed, and this is the time of year when I have to pretend that I have replaced my bank accounts with new ones, so that I may graciously be granted some non-zero rate of interest by institutions who (allegedly) make a profit by using our money to finance house-buyers or small businesses. Of course, we all know that neither of these groups of people actually exist in the UK, but we are expected to play this game to show willing.

This year I am finally losing patience, and am moving my savings (humble as they are) into National Savings and Investment (NS&I), which is effectively the UK Government, which means that guarantees become irrelevant, they will not try to sell me house insurance, and we shall no longer be required to play this yearly game of Let’s Pretend in order to qualify for interest.

I have no particular complaints about this process, other than to lament that NS&I appear to be almost as inept as their competitors. The Contesse phoned to see why her new account was taking so long to set  up, and the nice lady on the phone said “what is your membership number?”, to which the reasonable answer was “I don’t know, you haven’t sent me a welcome letter informing me of the number”.

The lady said, “Did you ask for a paperless account? (i.e. email only)”, to which the answer was “yes”. In that case, the Contesse was told, we cannot send you any letters.

In that case, the logic goes, how can I learn what my number is, so that I may access my account online and save the paperwork? This caused the lady a moment’s pause – obviously she had never reached this part of the script before.

What to do, she suggested, is write and pretend you have forgotten your membership number, and we will send you a letter and we can start all over again. Our distress over this development was temporary – about an hour later the postman delivered the aforementioned welcome letter, which had obviously been in the mail all the time. Phew. Not terrific, but survivable. Since this is the Government we are talking about here, we are filled with confidence for this new arrangement.

Yesterday, as part of this same migration, I decided to close my old Post Office account (which, oddly, is managed by the Bank of Ireland behind the wraps). The Post Office savings operation offers online banking, presumably because their customers (which used to include me) expect it, but they manage to present the online banking service in a way which minimizes all possible convenience or utility.

The account number appears on screen as, for example, ****3521 – this is so secure that not even the customer can see their own account number, only the last 4 digits. There are many things that you cannot do online with a Post Office account – in fact I am struggling to think of anything you actually can do with it online. If you give up and phone the call centre, the first thing they want to know is your account number. If you can only provide them with the last 4 digits that is no use at all – they refer you to a paper welcome letter you will have received two years earlier (in this case) which gives the full number. If you cannot find the letter, I guess you are soundly shafted.

I have hopes that NS&I will turn out to be OK – they are the last chance for the savings industry, as far as I am concerned. If they are as stupid as the rest of them, I swear I shall put what money I have left in a sweetie tin and keep it under the floorboards. Or just buy more soldiers.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

ECW - As You Were - Switchable FLAGS

Low-tech, cheap solution - job done!

Very many thanks to Steve and Gary and Martin for the advice. I had a go at making up some flags on the plastic tubing which forms the stem (stalk?) of a standard Cotton Bud - just to see how it went - and it went well enough to be the answer, I believe.

Above you see the pikemen from the (Royalist) Regiment of Foot of Gordon of Monymore, with their colonel's colour mounted in this new way. Since the flag swings around like a weather vane, I think I'll introduce a sliver of BluTak to hold it still. If I wish to switch them to the other side, to become a Covenanter regiment for Marston Moor or the Siege of York, for example, it is necessary only to slip on a suitable replacement flag.

A sample cotton bud is included in the picture - we also had some with blue stems, but they are a little thicker. All in all, one of the easier DIY jobs I've attempted recently - thanks again, gentlemen.

Monday 17 March 2014

ECW - Switchable Standard-Bearers

…and other cunning stuff.

The man himself - in Montrose High Street
Work on my windfall acquisition of second-hand ECW troops is going ahead – there is quite a lot to do, but it’s a factory process, and it’s mostly a matter of making time to sit down and get on with it, ensuring I have plenty of music to listen to.

This is figure painting of a style I haven’t done much of for many years – the previous owner was a doctor, I understand; sadly, he passed away recently and his widow arranged for his enormous collection of figures to be presented to a local charity shop, who raised a considerable sum on eBay. I believe that there were over a hundred boxes of stuff, representing a huge range of periods and styles of warfare. I bought some of his ECW figures – mostly Scots and Irish type figures – and found, to my surprise, that they were flagged and organized to suit the campaigns of the Marquis of Montrose, which – by a complete coincidence – is exactly what I had in mind myself when I bought them.

The figures are mostly SHQ and Tumbling Dice, which fits right in with my existing armies, but they are painted in a way which I used to employ myself in the days when my main concern was to get as many soldiers ready for battle as I could, in the shortest time possible. They are, to use what I think is Mr Featherstone’s phrase, “effective in the mass” rather than individually exquisite. That is not to dismiss them as crude, you understand, but recently I have grown accustomed to commissioned paint jobs on my ECW chaps which make each man a little personality, and these new troops for the Montrose unpleasantness are not like that. The painting is OK, though I have a lot of rebasing to get on with, and the acreage of Humbrol gloss varnish is astonishing, but the overall impression is of a major invasion by a faceless horde which you wouldn’t wish to meet up with.

Somehow this fits quite well with my feelings about the Covenanters and their opponents – masses of rather dour, businesslike fellows in “hodden grey”, with blue bonnets. The Scots army, we must remember, was a national army, not a collection of individual units raised by wealthy or prominent individuals, so a mass-production approach is maybe appropriate.

The task in hand is to identify the figures I can use, organize them into sensible units, clean off the remains of the old basing, get the old tweezers busy removing the cat hairs which are tacked onto the old varnish (not embedded in the stuff, fortunately), wash everything, touch up any chips or outstandingly poor bits of painting, give a thorough application of Galeria acrylic matt varnish, paint the figure bases in the house Crested Moss #1 shade, stick them on new 60 x 60 MDF stands and prepare flags. When you get within tweezer range of someone else’s figures, it all gets very personal. While I’m tinkering away I find myself chatting idly to The Doc, as I refer to the previous owner, and Whiskers, as I have christened his cat.

A box of Scots - just the first of a big new contingent - no flags yet
I have already produced a unit of Scots horse, and I have enough figures for 6 regiments of bonneted Scottish foot, plus 5 of non-Scottish chaps of generally northern (grey/brown) appearance. The plan is that Montrose will get two of the first group (Strathbogie and Gordon of Monymore) plus three of the second (who will be his Irish Brigade), and the balance will be available to his opponents, as will my three existing Covenanter units. There are also 4 small units of highland levies, who are up for grabs to either side, depending on scenario.

Almost certainly not Whiskers
Flags are interesting. Those of Strathbogie and Gordon of Monymore, and of the Irish Brigade, are distinctively Royalist, but I do not wish to disqualify these units from being called up to pitch in on the other side in the Bishop Wars, or against the Marquis of Newcastle, or at Marston Moor, if need be, so I have come up with a Cunning Plan for flags. Montrose’s foot regiments will have their standard bearers elegantly tacked onto the bases with BluTak, and spare officers will be available with alternative flags, such that they may switch allegiance as required. The Scottish fellows (including the spares for Montrose’s people) are to have general-purpose Covenanter style colours, and the non-Scots (including the spares for Montrose’s Irish) will have generic English (Northumbrian) colours, appropriate to their faceless-mass role.

One of my generic Scots units will, of course, have a colour very similar to that of the Duke of Argyll, the cross-eyed, craven, dastardly villain of Dame Veronica Wedgwood’s very readable but extremely biased life of Montrose.

Booo! - Argyll, the Pantomime Villain
I have much work to do, but at least I now know what it is. It is a comfort to have plans to dovetail these new forces with North-of-England scenarios, since otherwise they might be seen as a distraction from my main effort, for which I haven’t yet produced a proper campaign in my intended Lancashire theatre.

What fun, what fun! More pictures will appear in due course.

Thursday 13 March 2014

Hooptedoodle #124 - Zero Tolerance

The Aggressor - Jeff now has the tank to himself
Domestic violence - nobody expected that. One day my son's goldfish were happily loafing around in their Biorb, and the next day it was chaos. The big yellow fish was chasing the little orange fish round and round the tank, biting his fins, nibbling his scales off, and banging him into the scenery - never seen such a thing before.

It is actually rather worrying - the small fish is really looking very poorly as a result, and it doesn't look like any kind of happy ending is imminent.

Some kind of expert thread on the internet says that the only thing you can do is separate them until everything calms down. It might be the sunnier days, or the onset of the mating season, or it is not unknown for goldfish to attack one which is ailing. Whatever, this was a lot more drama than we are set up for, so we are in an uneasy period of calm while Steve, the small fish, is in his isolation tank.

Victim - Steve in his isolation tank, feeling very sorry for himself, note the case notes
What happens next is anyone's guess - if we have to replace Steve, for whatever reason, I think I might go for a better size match with the next one.

Late edit (Sunday 16th March): Steve has gone back into the main tank - a moment we've all been dreading - and thus far things seem to be fairly calm...

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Hooptedoodle #123 - The Stockdales

Though it sometimes still surprises me, my son attends a private school. Politically I am not awfully comfortable with private schools for a number of reasons, the most obvious being the cost and the fact that I’ve already paid enough taxes to provide a number of state educations. I am also aware that the Merchant schools in Edinburgh used to teach their children to believe that they were better than other kids because they could afford a private education, which I find pretty disgusting.

Whatever, given our rural location and the class sizes in the local schools, we opted to send Nick to a little private school in a neighbouring town, and we don’t really have many regrets – he has been happy and has done well. On the other hand, we have met some people there that normally we would have gone some distance to avoid.

In other circumstances, I would never have come across the Stockdales, for example. Mr Stockdale and his brother inherited a very successful business from their father, and – despite what you might think about the general state of the economy at present – they are rolling in money – can’t find enough ways to spend it.

Mrs S delivers her kids to school in her choice of some half-dozen or so SUVs they have – all Mercs and Lexuses and similar, with vanity plates – showing more jewellery than the average coronation. Mr S collects golf equipment and cars. Cars and more cars. He has (or had, I can’t keep track – in any case, keeping track might suggest that I am interested…) a Bentley and a couple of Ferraris, and he has recently purchased a Lamborghini (pictured), which retails in this part of the world at a cool £265,000. The reason I know about this is because young Stockdale has been bragging about it to his classmates. Young Stockdale brags about his parents’ wealth a great deal, apparently – this is uncomfortable. First of all, we have to handle the problem of explaining to our lad why we don’t have that kind of purchasing power. Then there is the matter of Young Stockdale himself – he spent the last couple of years telling his chums that they had better be careful with the school library books, since his dad had donated them. Now Young S is school captain, which – for a while – he interpreted as a licence to bully the rest of the kids and shout at them. That seems to have calmed down a bit now, so I guess that someone on the school staff managed to summon the tact to address the matter without compromising the donations.

We should all be grateful, I can see that. I also see that I have to be very careful that I do not appear envious, and – dammit – that I am sure in my heart that I am not actually envious. We have to take the opportunity to explain to Nick that, in a world where the economy is broken – largely as a result of greed – and where the price of a Lamborghini would feed a Sudanese village for years, it is maybe not such a glamorous thing to throw money around in this way. We laugh about the Stockdales’ latest exploits. Privately, I look forward to Young Stockdale moving on to secondary school after the summer, where he will become a rather smaller fish and will, with luck, get kicked into shape. After the summer I shall probably never hear about his family again – in an odd way, I shall miss them a little. Like a weekly cartoon strip.   

Friday 7 March 2014

Unsung Heroes of Wargaming - Tony Barr

Apart from the high-profile master makers and rule writers, and the great names of Old School wargaming, there are a lot of chaps in the hobby who don't get the credit they are due, I think.

One such is Tony Barr, at East Riding Miniatures, who supplies me with a lot of laser-cut MDF bases, sabots and scenic tiles. His pieces are more accurately made than those of some of his more expensive competitors, his prices are very reasonable, his website is easy to use and well maintained and - above all else - he is helpful and personable and prepared to indulge all the oddballs like me who want weird shapes and custom sizes.

Such a faultless service becomes an easy thing to take for granted, and I am very sorry to learn that Tony has been unwell and in hospital, and will be convalescing for a while. I'm ashamed to say that it is at such times that we remember to appreciate properly the amount of help and support we get from our regular suppliers - I hope you will join me in wishing Tony all the very best for a full recovery.

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Fiddling Around – Trenches and Varnish

Abstract representation of Siegeworks
You may recognise the objects in the picture – they are wooden blocks from a game which goes by various names – the very big garden version is called (I think) Jenga – I only played it once, and I wasn’t very good at it, though the beer was good, I recall. I subsequently bought four miniature sets, very cheaply, from a local general store, just to get my hands on the blocks.

You see, what these are really is siege trench sections. Yes, I know they don’t look very realistic, but they are what I have available. I am reminded of a very old schoolboy joke about survivors of a plane crash in the Tunisian desert searching for food; the bad news was that the only organic material they found was camel dung – the good news was that there was a lot of it. So my trench sections might look rubbish, but I have more than you would believe.

Since my siege gaming is still in its extended prototyping stage, and since I am a lazy beggar, I have stuck with these dreadful lumps of wood on the grounds that it wasn’t worth splashing out money or effort on anything better until I have a game which works. Disadvantages, of course, are multiple – for a start:

(a) It’s not very motivating or interesting to build trenches which look this ridiculous

(b) Recruited players – particularly younger ones – may find themselves building odd shapes with the blocks during the game, to create a welcome distraction

(c) Etc

I am starting to think seriously about more acceptable trenches. Whatever I do has to be cheap, simple, and easily stored. There are some splendid looking resin castings around, but that is hardly a cheap option. I could scratch build something, but I fear I am not very skilled at such things, and it would take me ages to produce enough – and then I have to remember that all the scenery I ever scratch built fell to pieces very quickly.

Somewhere, in an old book, there is a suggestion for the use of triangular section hardwood strip, cut and mitred to provide proper lengths and angles. That’s cheap and storable, and would paint up OK, but it’s only a small step up from the Jenga blocks. What else is there?

Well, the bold Mr Kinch mentioned dado rail recently, and I had previously thought myself of picture frame mouldings, so I have been having a bit of a look at what is on the market, studying the websites of Wickes and a few specialist picture framing suppliers. Some exotic stuff out there – nothing jumps out at me yet, and I am starting to realize that I don’t even know very much about what a real trench looked like, so I’ve started reading up on that, and I’m heading backwards at a decent rate. If anyone would like to come round for a very large game of miniature Jenga, I might be interested.

More on this subject soon, I hope.

Subject 2 – Varnish

Moss Troopers and friends, waiting to be de-shined
I have become the owner of a collection of ECW figures of the correct size – SHQ and Tumbling Dice, mostly, plus some others I haven’t identified yet – which are painted up and should be capable of being worked into my armies without a life-changing effort. They were part of the (vast) collection of a chap in Belfast who died recently, and my interest was kindled by the fact that they contained numerous Scottish and Irish figures, which might give me an easy way to expand my armies in such a way that I could have a bash at the campaigns of Montrose.

I’ve received about half of the new arrivals so far, and am somewhat shaken to see that the flags and the organization of the units suggest that the previous owner had them set up for – that’s right – the campaigns of Montrose. I’ll have to see what comes in the second box, and there will be a lot of re-organising and rebasing needed, but this is quite an exciting little development.

Only slight fly in the ointment is that the figures are finished with a very heavy gloss varnish – almost certainly an enamel-type varnish rather than an acrylic one, so I’ll have some work to do calming this down a bit to match the rest of my forces. I’ve been trying some pilot figures, to see how a wash in detergent followed by a coat of matt acrylic works, and it looks promising. I was afraid that the acrylic would just form into blobs, or wouldn’t cover properly, but it is looking good. I’ll have to do a bit of extra detailing on the horses once they are dulled down, but I am reassured that it is feasible.

So I’m busily reading Start Reid’s booklets on the Scots armies, and am quite enthusiastic about the potential of this little exercise. Again, you should hear more of this in due course.