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

Sunday 27 April 2014

Hooptedoodle #130 – Technology Advances at Chateau Foy

I live in a very rural spot of South East Scotland, as I have mentioned here previously. We are not isolated in the sense that Canadians or Australians would recognise the term, but we are some miles from the nearest village (pubs, shops, post office) and we have so few neighbours that our immediate area is always well down any priority lists for infrastructure improvement. The nearest piped gas supply stops about 4 miles away, our broadband speed is so slow that it even surprises the local engineers, our electricity arrives via overhead cables, which run some miles across the farm fields and through gaps cut in the woods, and there is no mobile phone service here. By the standards of mainland Britain, this is a backwater.

The location suits us, and there are obviously a number of considerable advantages in living out here, but it is the last two of these small technical matters that this morning’s Blethering Sunday hooptedoodle will focus upon.

Rural charm
Subject 1 – Up the Pole

The oldest part of our house was originally a dairyman’s cottage, and was built around 1960. The area which is now our side garden (which, confusingly, is where the front door is) was originally the “drying green” for the little hamlet of farm cottages. We have a hefty wooden pole in the middle of the side lawn, which brings the electric power to the house. The garden has had new boundaries and been landscaped over the years, but I see no reason to suppose that the pole has ever been replaced since 1960.

It is part of the character of the place, and in Provence or somewhere it would seem quite charming to have overhead power cables, but our pole is not a source of pleasure in that way. Since a large neighbouring tree was removed a few years ago, the pole now dominates the garden, and it is not without some dangers. Kites are a very bad idea, water sprayers and hosepipes have to be kept out of the hands of children (in case they fry themselves), and there are numerous local stories of tree surgeons and roofers being killed by discharges arcing from these old cables. We cannot use a pressure spray to take moss off the roof, for example, for fear that the spray makes the God of the Pole angry, and he literally strikes us down. Thus all roof cleaning and repair has to be done with a lot of hand scraping and rather hushed conversation – to be on the safe side.

The ancient pole itself is rotting – on a summer afternoon, if there is no wind, you can hear the wasps munching away at it, deep in the cracks. Our chums at Scottish Power have occasionally come and looked at it, and promised that it will be replaced, but mostly their visits have been notable for fresh applications of very unsightly barbed wire – on the pole and on its anchor-stay – to frustrate our obvious enthusiasm to shin up the 20 feet or so and place a wet finger on the wires, to see what happens. Each time they go away, I take the law into my own hands and remove the barbed wire – if I wish to electrocute myself, I have no desire to hurt myself on the wire on the way up, and I certainly don't want to look at the stuff on a regular basis.

When the pole was last inspected in 2012, the young fellow from Scottish Power said it would be replaced very soon. I asked him was there any chance of the new pole being re-sited in the lane outside our garden, which would give a straighter run for the cabling, would move the wires to a new location, away from our front steps (so the pigeons could no longer sit in a row and defecate on visitors), and would improve the safety of the place quite a bit and the appearance very considerably. The SP man peered at me from beneath his yellow hardhat with the sort of nervous look which is correctly used when dealing with dangerous lunatics (I believe it is part of their training), and mumbled something about regulations and cable spans and planning permission – then he left.

They have returned. A much older man arrived last month, announced that the replacement of the pole was imminent, and – with hardly any prompting from us – suggested that it would be much better to place the new pole outside in the lane (exactly where we wanted it) and, provided the farmer didn’t object, they would be back to carry out the work in April.

Well, the days are accomplished. The pole has been installed. The cables have not been attached yet, but we are booked for a day without electricity on Wednesday, when the cables will be replaced with modern ones. This is such an unexpected stroke of good fortune that we are still expecting something to go wrong, but the pole is here, and it’s standing up, and I can’t see SP wasting their time and money to change it again. All being well, our hated pole will be gone by next weekend. The only people who will not be pleased are the family of sparrows who are living in an illegal nesting box (above the barbed wire line) on the pole itself, but there must always be a little collateral damage.

Good – we’ll give this a very large tick. The sparrows will have more babies in future years.

All right - no laughter, please...

Subject 2 – The Dreaded Smart-Phone

I have a very ancient mobile phone – it is so old, in fact, that the sales assistant in Phones4U burst out laughing when he saw it yesterday. I was not embarrassed – I was quite proud of it. I should have done something about my mobile years ago, but I hardly use it, and I am currently paying my network supplier some £18 a month for something which gives me hardly any benefit at all. How stupid is that?

As mentioned earlier, my home is a dead spot on the mobile networks – no service at all. When I was running my little publishing business, and travelling around a bit, I used my mobile a lot, and could not have managed without it. Without that context, my phone is now an expensive nuisance for most of the time. It is useful when I go away, or out in the car, but I only really need to make the occasional call and send the odd text – I have been known to take photos, but rarely.

The rest of the world, of course, cannot understand this. Despite my requests that they should not use my mobile number, friends and businesses constantly make calls which I do not receive. Courier deliveries and internet banking security procedures now do not work properly if you do not have a working mobile. Service engineers for utilities and domestic hardware will request a mobile number, so they can text and tell us when they are likely to arrive. If you do not have a working mobile, pal, you are not a citizen.

There is a whiff of comedy when I drive away from home, up the lane and off the farm. There is a sound like a genteel fire alarm, which is the accumulated urgent text messages from the last couple of days chiming through as I head towards the real world. By the time I get to the public road – maybe a mile away – the display shows a handsome network service, ready to meet all my demands. The thing which really niggles is that I am paying £18 per month for this joke, and it is all my own fault, since I have not done anything about it before now.

The network provider keeps urging me to upgrade my phone, which hardly seems worthwhile if I don’t use it. Thus my wife and all the sensible people have moved on, and bought modern phones, while I still live in a bygone age. A friend of mine visited recently, and – of course – his mobile didn’t work, but he has an app installed on his iPhone which enables him to register with my house wi-fi, and he could then receive and make calls through the internet quite satisfactorily.


The rest of the world almost certainly is aware of all this and uses it every day, but it had eluded me until now. Yesterday I travelled to Edinburgh (on the train, with a loaf of bread and my old phone in a knotted handkerchief, on a stick over my shoulder) and went to talk to the nice people in the phone shops. Goodness, what a lot of them there are…

I had to get someone to talk me out of this loop – don’t want a smartphone since no service at home and not worth the expense, but only way to get a decent service at home is with a smartphone. I think I now have a way ahead. I can change my contract so that the monthly allowances are so much better I can hardly believe it, and they will provide me with a posh new phone so that I can use them, and the monthly payment will go down to three-quarters of what it is now. If I provide my own phone it will be even cheaper – about half. It all hinges on whether the mobile actually works at my house under this new arrangement. The sales guy at EE (I am an Orange customer) reckons it will, but then he has the faith, which I do not.

They have offered to lend me a SIM card for a fortnight so I can try it out. Seems sensible.

So I am approaching a big decision point – if it works, I will join the ranks of the detestable smartphone users, and my life will change forever (aaargh!); if it doesn’t, I shall probably hang on to my existing museum-exhibit and switch to a cheap, pay-as-you-go arrangement which suits my minimal usage.

I had a trial play with my wife’s iPhone yesterday – it seems very good – I quite fancy that. The only hang-ups I have are

(1) the cost of the phone

(2) the fact that it offers a vast array of features, games, music, ridiculous apps and so on that I am not the slightest bit interested in

(3) I have to rise above my virulent dislike of smartphones, and the very serious damage they have done to education, literacy, the workings of society and a number of other trifling areas

Yesterday I sat on the train into Edinburgh and it was almost silent. Nobody speaks, so as you would notice. Everyone is texting, so presumably they must have some friends somewhere else – unless, of course they were texting the person in the next seat. The other day, I sat in a coffee bar in a bookshop in Haddington, reading, when three ladies arrived at the next table – greeted each other warmly, ordered coffee and cakes, and then got out their iPhones and ignored each other for the next 20 minutes. Terrific – I don’t want to get like that – even a bit. The fact that I have no mates might help out a lot here.

How can we have such an overkill of communications technology, when hardly anyone has anything worthwhile to say? How can we have such an overprovision of phone apps which we do not really need and which waste more time than anyone can sensibly afford? How can anyone ever get any peace, or have a worthwhile idea, if they spend their lives with their heads jammed up their backsides?

Don’t tell me how busy you are if you spend a quarter of your day gawping at crap online, or sending non-messages to your pals. If you choose to do it, then no problem, but it is a choice – you are not really busy. Get a life. And do not answer your phone or check your texts while you are speaking to me, or I shall throw the thing into the nearest pond.


Thursday 24 April 2014

Spanish Drummers - some dubiety

As far as I can tell, the drummers didn't dress like this
The next unit of my 1809 Spanish army up for painting is the Regimiento de la Reina, whose uniform is well documented, but I have had a bit of a goose chase trying to identify what their drummers wore.

It seems likely that the Spanish line infantry would have worn a mix of uniforms by 1809, with some units still wearing the blue 1802 kit, most wearing the 1805 white coats, and a proportion of makeshift outfits using the ubiquitous local brown cloth, but I'm trying for something very close to the official appearance for Reina. Drummers? - don't ask. A lot of vagueness abounds - a couple of sources state that the drummers wore anything the colonel fancied, which may or may not be true, but doesn't help much. I've recently obtained a French book about the Battle of Ocana, which includes some very nice uniform plates by Peter Bunde, and I've also done some study of the Spanish items in Bunde's catalogue, and it seems that drummers had a standard uniform - dark blue with red facings - regardless of the unit's facing colour.

That's what I'm going for at the moment - artwork here is taken from the Ocana book, featuring Bunde's plates. Any inside info on Spanish drummers will be most welcome - most of the illustrations of painted models on the internet (including catalogue pics from figure manufacturers) show infantry drummers dressed the same as the rest of the regiment - maybe some of them did?

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Toygaming - some afterthoughts

Nothing childish here...
This additional post is merely a follow-up to the previous one, after the comments and some further emails (for which thanks to Martin and Louis) and a bit more reading of the Sabin book to which I referred last time. I propose to reproduce a couple of paragraphs from it which I found thought-provoking – I have no permission to quote these, but if they interest you then I recommend you purchase the book, which is Simulating War, by Philip Sabin, published by Bloomsbury Academic, so I can sort of justify it as promotional if pressed!

Philip Sabin is Professor of Strategic Studies in
the Department of War Studies at King's College, London, UK
The passages I chose are not because I have a particular axe to grind (well, no more than usual), simply things which I felt might stimulate some interest and fire up a few neurons. It must be borne in mind that the Professor is approaching his subject very largely from the point of view of education (both of academic students and of future generals), and thus his position might be regarded as a little rarified.

Firstly, on the subject of playability:

The fetish for wargame detail and complexity famously reached its greatest extreme in 1979 with The Campaign for North Africa, a multiplayer monster with five big mapsheets, 1800 counters, and nearly 200 pages of rules and charts that seemed to cover every conceivable logistic and tactical consideration. It is said that not even the designers themselves had time to complete the full campaign game. One later reviewer wrote that: ‘This game is just too involved to be played by a small wargame club with finite resources’, but that it might be ‘instructional to a graduate history seminar’. Nothing could better illustrate the growing disconnect between the dwindling band of traditional wargames enthusiasts and the rest of society over what ‘playability’ really means. There is a reason why a popular game such as chess has only 64 grid squares and only 32 pieces, of which each player may move only one per turn. That is quite enough to generate subtleties and complexities that have engaged the greatest minds for many generations. One does not need to go much beyond these parameters to produce wargames that offer challenging and thought-provoking simulations of real military campaigns. The great majority of published manual and computer wargames are, unfortunately, too complex, time consuming or unrealistic to be used directly in an academic context, but they do offer a mine of ideas on which one’s own more tailored designs may be based. Above all, it is crucial to remember that a simple wargame that is played will be more instructive than a detailed wargame that is not.

Now on the subject of the tension between games developed for military and hobby purposes (note that the games he refers to here will normally be board-type games):

The relationship between military and recreational wargaming over the past 50 years has been decidedly double-edged. On the one hand, professional wargamers, already sensitive to the negative connotations of the word ‘game’, have often been embarrassed by any link with hobbyists, especially given the blurred boundaries between recreational wargaming and playing with toy soldiers or the popular enthusiasm for fantasy gaming. As Allen reported: ‘“This is not Dungeons and Dragons we’re doing here,” a Pentagon officer indignantly told me in a discussion of what he called “serious modeling and simulation”.’ On the other hand, many professional wargamers themselves play recreational wargames in their spare time (Dunnigan reported that around 20% of hobbyists were in the military or related government jobs), and dissatisfaction with the cost and unwieldiness of official games has often prompted officers to investigate cheaper and more accessible commercial alternatives. Dunnigan himself has been an enthusiastic advocate of this approach, although he claims that: ‘[T]he existing government suppliers of wargame technology did what they could to discourage the purchase of these “toys” (commercial wargames), as the “toys” were a lot cheaper and more competitive than the multimillion-dollar military wargame projects that kept so many defense consultants (and many government employees) comfortably employed.’

Since I am on a bit of a roll here, regurgitating the wisdom of others, I'd like to end with a fine quote from CS Lewis, of which I was most kindly reminded by the Honourable Conrad Kinch. Since the word "childish" seems to appear in, or be implied by, most of the forms of disapproval to which wargamers of any shade react badly, it is worth remembering that it is a word which, most typically, is employed by children themselves. Children, lest we forget, are also noted for their ability to learn and take on new ideas, and for an innate creativity and sense of fun:

CS Lewis
“Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

Personally, I am not very interested in people who know everything, though I do seem to meet a great many.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Thoughts of a Toygamer

As an appropriate foreword, here is a clip from a thread on (of which I am a fairly regular reader) which I offer as an example of something I have struggled with for a long time – including a few heart-searchings on this very blog, I believe.

The author of the clip has published this on the Internet, where everyone can see it, and appears even to be quite pleased with his idea, so I see no reason to change any details of it or protect his ID. Everyone is perfectly entitled to express their views (subject to moderation, of course), and it is only reasonable that everyone else is entitled to a free opinion of those views (without moderation), and of the sort of people who express them, and why they feel moved to do so.

Respect all round; fair is fair.

I don’t have a problem with this view – it seems a tad bitchy, maybe, but it’s quite amusing. Equally, I don’t have a problem with Martin’s most recent instalment of his serial emails to me on the subject of the evil that is Commands & Colors, and how it will never replace proper Old School wargaming. Martin has probably never thought of himself as a Toygamer, but he appears to be just that, and will probably be proud of the fact now that he knows.

So what is all this about? What is it that makes us (all of us, including me) pay lip-service to the enrichment which diversity brings to our hobby, while still taking every chance to stick pins in some “other lot”, because they offend some fundamental ideal which we’ve held so long we can’t remember where we learned it?

I don’t feel I ever got close enough to the human race to have a valid view on human nature – whatever that is – so I’ll spare you some embarrassment by grasping the opportunity to keep quiet on that one, but I had a couple of thoughts while shaving.

(1) Is it, in fact, a single hobby? Is a single hobby too straightforward? Do we all need some imagined opposing faction within it, to which we can feel superior?

(2) Are we all a bit defensive anyway, because of the traditional (imagined?) contempt felt for wargamers by the rest of the world? Is it easier to take out one’s touchiness on near relatives?

(3) I’m on shaky ground trying to produce unqualified generalisations about the hobby and its disciples – my own preferences and areas of interest are much too limited for that, and I do not have as wide a general understanding as I sometimes like to think. I can only have a go at analyzing where I am myself, and how I came to think the way I do.

(4) …and, because he deserves it, I’ll have a go at Martin.

As briefly as possible (not least because I have written all this numerous times before):

* I was originally excited by the same books as most wargamers of my age
* I’ve spent a great many years since then trying to make the games as enjoyable as I expected them to be when I started
* I’m still trying, but I’m more pragmatic about it now
* I love little painted soldiers in neat rows – the more colourful the period the better; this love is out of all proportion to any sensible reason for it, but it is a major influence on the types of games I like to play
* I was deeply shocked by board wargames; it took a long time before I would try one, but I was amazed at the clarity and completeness of the rules, the speed and logic of the play, and by the almost total lack of arguments
* However, I found the visual spectacle less satisfactory, and I missed the little men, so I spent the next 30 years looking for some satisfactory middle ground that combined the best of both worlds
* Commands & Colors (played with miniatures, in my case) has gone a long way to filling that hole for me; it doesn’t suit everyone, and it doesn’t provide absolutely everything I need either, but I wish the game had been around many years ago

At which point Martin appears and tells me I’m mistaken and that I have sold out to the enemy. He does it pleasantly and amusingly, of course, and his reasoning has an orthodoxy that I have come to recognise.

You see, my friends (whisper it) – Martin has also struggled with the disappointment which much of his wargaming has generated, but he has dealt with this by going back to the original books and starting again – back to the time when he was still excited. I can see a flaw here – it is something to do with failing to learn from history. If I were to go back 30-odd years – good heavens, it’s 40 years now! – I would recognise all the holes and shortcomings in the game which led to all the blind-alley tweaks and improvements and the eventual realization that boardgames had something which was useful and (more whispering) sometimes better.

I’ve got them all here – Featherstone, Wesencraft, Young, Morschauser, Grant. I really enjoy them – so much that I have actually replaced a couple of them that I had sold on eBay in a rash moment. But this is nostalgia, for the most part. Particularly Wesencraft’s Practical Wargames, which was the biggest influence on my developmental years – I sometimes have a mad urge to play a game using Wesencraft’s rules, but when I stop and consider how it will be – all the morale testing especially – I usually go off the idea.

So do I play a lot of board wargames, then? No – I own a good few, but seldom, if ever, do I play them. I recently bought a decent old copy of Ariel’s The English Civil War on eBay, entirely because it is considered an excellent instrument for conducting solo compaigns as a framework for miniatures battles. I haven’t used it yet. By the time I had checked that all the (rather dull) cardboard counters were present and correct I couldn’t face it. All those counters – all that effort to sort them out, change a 20-point cavalry counter for a 10 and a five and 3 ones after each action – as a solo experience I find this, I regret to say, dismal. I live in hope that I shall shake off this lack of fortitude and get on with it, but I find that handling large numbers of cardboard counters is a great chore, while – strangely – I will happily arrange cupboards and boxes and tables full of painted toys all day long.

Discuss. I also have to point out that the attraction of the cardboard squares is not helped by my dwindling eyesight, nor the fact that my fingertips appear to be changing into elephants’ feet.

Martin, meanwhile, is feverishly setting up games which look exactly like the photos in the original Charles Grant (Sr) books, and even fighting those same battles, in his rush to recapture the thrill. Good for him. He knows he is right, too.

As ever, I haven’t really got anywhere here, other than confirming that there are a lot more questions than answers, but often the consideration of the questions is useful. Or at least it passes the time until I can’t remember why I was doing it in the first place.

Which reminds me that my original intention was to say a few words about a book I am reading on my Kindle. It is Simulating War, by Philip Sabin, and I believe I was prompted to purchase it by a comment on one of the blogs I read – I can’t remember exactly where I heard of it, but if it was your comment then thank you.

I’ve not really got very far through it yet, but have found it fascinating. Sabin discusses many aspects of the theoretical modelling of warfare, and compares the approaches and relative success of professional strategists, educators and hobbyists, and the various strengths and weaknesses of paper layouts (which we might describe as boardgames) and computer games, which, briefly, he considers to have been less successful than expected, since they are market and technology led, and tend to be designed bottom-up. The criterion for success here is not commercial profitability, but Sabin’s central theme of the optimal balance between realism and playability – a subject which we could all bore the legs off donkeys with for many years.

I offer no kind of review here, other than to recommend the book if this is the sort of thing you find interesting. I did notice, however, that occasionally I found myself pleased because he had expressed something which I feel myself, but rather more skillfully and convincingly than I could have managed. If I am honest, I was especially pleased at the occasions where he was criticising some “other lot”. At other times I found he was sticking pins in my lot, at which point I would say to myself, “ah, he doesn’t really understand that”, or “that’s true, but it doesn’t really apply to me…”

That other lot have much to answer for.

Friday 18 April 2014

C&CN - Barrosa Scenario

Barrosa starting position (almost untweaked), from behind the French right
Yesterday I fought a Commands & Colors: Napoleonics battle with my friend Jack, who has no prior experience of wargames. Since this was primarily a social occasion, I gave some thought to what would provide a suitable game.

C&C is a pretty obvious game for a beginner, since it is straightforward, capable of being learned quickly (and as you go along), moves along briskly and is of short duration.

I made a mental note that I must take care not to frighten off my friend by being too enthusiastic, and I seriously considered an ECW game using my own variant of the rules – the ECW, after all, has a pleasingly ancient, other-worldly charm, and the funny costumes and quaint “Chaunce” cards all add to its potential appeal.

Eventually, I decided that the Napoleonic game has less fiddly bits (squares and combined-arms attacks notwithstanding) and involves less risk of someone being injured by a unit of pikes. Further, it seemed a good idea to use a published scenario, since these are pre-tested and should give a balanced game and – importantly – start from a position where the armies are lined up and ready to go. If it seems odd to justify using someone else’s scenario, I must explain that I normally do not use them.

I chose the Barrosa scenario from the 1st (Spanish) expansion set, and made a few other decisions for the day:

(1) Use the C&CN rules as published, without my usual house tweaks (the Barrosa scenario does not involve guerrilleros, nor use of the guerrilla rules)

(2) Take care to use the unit sizes and strengths as published, rather than my own variations on these, so as not to distort the game balance

(3) The only tweak was to add a couple of units of cavalry to each army, to give a better spread of troop types for an instruction game

We adopted the approach of jointly examining the cards of both sides and agreeing the best moves on each turn, taking the opportunity to reinforce the way the rules work and consider the available options. The game went well – we were, I suppose, running it as a joint facilitation rather than as a match – Jack didn’t get too confused, and seemed to quite enjoy himself, and we finished in round about the standard two hours.

The narrative of the battle is quickly presented. The French set about the big hill on their left front, drove the Spanish infantry from it, and were then stopped dead by the British Foot Guards (who are a very serious proposition indeed), and by the (largely unauthorised) British cavalry, who made very short work of their French opposite numbers. The Allies won 7-5 (including the extra victory point for having most of the hill), the French situation not being helped by the spectacular failure of their light cavalry and the demise of General Ruffin. The wooded plain opposite the French right did not feature very much in the action, though it served to limit the effectiveness of their artillery.

The Spanish General Lardizabal, in passing, was the true hero of the day, leading units into action in a manner which would have astounded everyone back in 1811.

Anyway, an interesting afternoon. My liking for the un-tweaked rules is renewed, and I have another candidate opponent for future games. I have decided that the Short Supply command card is such a silly one that I may drop it from the pack in future - it is difficult to come up with a justification of what it involves (one unit selected to drop back to the baseline). I also have a new respect for the published scenarios, though I have to say that the Barrosa scenario is not awfully similar to the actual battle…

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Hooptedoodle #129 - ECW - MacGonagall on Montrose

The Execution of James Graham, Marquis of Montrose
A Historical Poem
‘Twas in the year of 1650, and on the twenty-first of May,

The city of Edinburgh was put into a state of dismay

By the noise of drums and trumpets, which on the air arose,

That the great sound attracted the notice of Montrose.
Who enquired at the Captain of the guard the cause of it,

Then the officer told him, as he thought most fit,

That the Parliament dreading an attempt might be made to rescue him,

The soldiers were called out to arms, and that had made the din.
Do I, said Montrose, continue such a terror still?

Now when these good men are about my blood to spill,

But let them look to themselves, for after I am dead,

Their wicked consciences will be in continual dread.
After partaking of a hearty breakfast, he commenced his toilet,

Which, in his greatest trouble, he seldom did forget.

And while in the act of combing his hair,

He was visited by the Clerk Register, who made him stare,
When he told him he shouldn’t be so particular with his head,

For in a few hours he would be dead;

But Montrose replied, While my head is my own I’ll dress it at my ease,

And to-morrow, when it becomes yours, treat it as you please.
He was waited upon by the Magistrates of the city,

But, alas! for him they had no pity.

He was habited in a superb cloak, ornamented with gold and silver lace;

And before the hour of execution an immense assemblage of people were round the place.
From the prison, bareheaded, in a cart, they conveyed him along the Watergate

To the place of execution on the High Street, where about thirty thousand people did wait,

Some crying and sighing, a most pitiful sight to see,

All waiting patiently to see the executioner hang Montrose, a man of high degree.
Around the place of execution, all of them were deeply affected,

But Montrose, the noble hero, seemed not the least dejected;

And when on the scaffold he had, says his biographer Wishart,

Such a grand air and majesty, which made the people start.
As the fatal hour was approaching when he had to bid the world adieu,

He told the executioner to make haste and get quickly through,

But the executioner smiled grimly, but spoke not a word,

Then he tied the Book of Montrose’s Wars round his neck with a cord.
Then he told the executioner his foes would remember him hereafter,

And he was as well pleased as if his Majesty had made him Knight of the Garter;

Then he asked to be allowed to cover his head,

But he was denied permission, yet he felt no dread.
He then asked leave to keep on his cloak,

But was also denied, which was a most grievous stroke;

Then he told the Magistrates, if they could invent any more tortures for him,

He would endure them all for the cause he suffered, and think it no sin.
On arriving at the top of the ladder with great firmness,

His heroic appearance greatly did the bystanders impress,

Then Montrose asked the executioner how long his body would be suspended,

Three hours was the answer, but Montrose was not the least offended.
Then he presented the executioner with three or four pieces of gold,

Whom he freely forgave, to his honour be it told,

And told him to throw him off as soon as he uplifted his hands,

While the executioner watched the fatal signal, and in amazement stands.
And on the noble patriot raising his hands, the executioner began to cry,

Then quickly he pulled the rope down from the gibbet on high,

And around Montrose’s neck he fixed the rope very gently,

And in an instant the great Montrose was launched into eternity.
Then the spectators expressed their disapprobation by general groan,

And they all dispersed quietly, and wended their way home

And his bitterest enemies that saw his death that day,

Their hearts were filled with sorrow and dismay.
Thus died, at the age of thirty-eight, James Graham, Marquis of Montrose,

Who was brought to a premature grave by his bitter foes;

A commander who had acquired great military glory

In a short space of time, which cannot be equalled in story.

Though you might feel that you have once again identified the distinctive style of Miss Bentham’s class at Beaconsfield Primary School, this is, of course, the work of William Topaz MacGonagall (1830-1902), variously regarded as Scotland’s worst ever poet or Dundee’s favourite son. Yes, of course it's rubbish, but personally I admire his bold disregard for accuracy of rhyme and meter, and his overriding, earnest enthusiasm. Spike Milligan was a huge fan.

Was MacGonagall, I sometimes wonder, taking the mickey? Was he an early version of the off-beat Scottish humorists of whom Chic Murray and Ivor Cutler are more recent examples?

I've attempted to include an embedded YouTube clip of suitably improving tone - I had some difficulty getting this to work, which may simply be a problem with the version of Flash I have on my iMac. Here it is anyway - if it doesn't run, try clicking here to link directly.

Friday 11 April 2014

Hooptedoodle #128 - Nose-stalgia? - not what it used to be

When I was a young chap, my grandfather (who lived in Paris at the time) once sent me a bottle of Chevalier d'Orsay after-shave lotion as a Christmas gift, and a fine big bottle it was, too.

In those days, Paris was a lot further away and a lot more exotic than it seems now, and this after-shave was fantastic stuff. Maybe fantastic isn't the word - maybe fantastic is not what we (or the copy writers) are looking for in after-shave - but it was the best after-shave I ever had, anyway. It was a very fresh, lemony scent, with sort of herbal things in it - don't expect me to start using words like "notes"…

Anyway, I was as frugal as possible with this, my very-best No.1 after-shave, and it lasted for years, but eventually it was gone, as was my grandfather, and I never managed to get any more. So I moved on, and I forgot all about it.

After that I suppose I must have gone through the Brut years, the Lynx years, the Ralph Lauren years, the Calvin Klein years and eventually found myself back at the Boots'-own-brand, £5.99-a-bottle years, as one does. Not having thought about it for decades, one day recently I suddenly remembered Chevalier d'Orsay, the Contesse looked it up online, and - merveilleux! - found that it is still made, and someone in the UK sells the stuff by mail order.

Not a big deal, admittedly, but my life is less glamorous than it once was, and the prospect of having the postman deliver an instant trip back to my 20s was at least a little bit exciting. There is nothing, I contend, more capable of firing up memories than one's sense of smell, so I invested in a little olfactory time travel - black magic and wicked spices, just for the hell of it.

The package arrived, and I have been using it since that day. It is, of course, eau de toilette in a modern sprayer rather than splash-on after-shave, and it really is very pleasant, but - you know what? - it doesn't smell the same. I did a bit of poking around online, and I understand that Parfums d'Orsay withdrew the old stuff, and relaunched it in 1995, using more modern ingredients (I quote from their website).

Using what? Why in Purple Hades did they change the ingredients? If they wanted to change the ingredients, they should have changed the name, you would think, in case they disappointed some ancient former customer who had been hoping for an authentic, soul-tugging whiff of his long-dead past. Even the world of pongs, gentlemen, appears not to be what it was.

Anyway, it's very pleasant, so one mustn't grumble.