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

Saturday 31 January 2015

Hooptedoodle #163 - The Grand Prix at Aintree

I’ve been very busy with the dreaded Real Life for a couple of weeks, a situation which is likely to persist for a little while longer, so I have done no painting and there has been no progress with the ECW campaign. None of this is a problem – it was all expected and planned, and the sector of Real Life I have been busy with is something I am very enthusiastic about anyway. There is a wargames-related development shaping up in the form of some forthcoming figures I have commissioned, but I’m not allowed to say anything about that yet.

Things should get back on track in February in the Campaigning and Blogging Dept, but, to avoid the Prometheus saga shrivelling up altogether, I decided to publish a rather long nostalgia post which I drafted up some weeks ago for my own amusement. Here goes.

The Grand Prix at Aintree

The Grand National - one of the smallest fences
A little while ago I was sorting through some folders of my photographs, and I found some pictures that I took about 10 years ago, on a visit to Aintree racecourse.

As I have mentioned before, I was born and raised in Liverpool, a large and workmanlike industrial city and port in the north-west of England. To its children, and to people who have grown to love the place, it possesses a certain vigour, not to say charm, but I grew up when it was still extensively wrecked from the air raids of WW2, when there was not enough money to get on with rebuilding it properly and things were, to use a fashionable term, austere.

There was not a lot of organised fun about life in Liverpool at that time – I think we had a couple of active theatres, we had a very famous orchestra which was resident at the rebuilt Philharmonic Hall, we had two so-so football teams whose glories were mostly in the past, and there were a number of other attractions, but nothing really to write home about (assuming that home was somewhere else). The relative boom time of the 1960s was still mostly in the future.

What we did have, though, was the Grand National, at Aintree. For the benefit of non-British readers, the Grand National is a very old, very famous horse race, run over very large, permanent fences, of the type which in Britain is known as a steeplechase. This was a mighty event, run every year, which attracted huge crowds and lots of money to our humble corner of the Provinces. The racecourse and the event, at Aintree, on the northern edge of the city, were owned by the very wealthy Topham family – I think the chargehand of the day was Mrs Mirabel Topham, an impressively large and strong minded lady. Though her horse race brought a great deal of welcome money to the city, she seems to have spent a lot of time arguing with the City Council. One of the areas of contention was Melling Road.

Mrs Topham
Melling Road, you see, was a public thoroughfare which ran right through the middle of the racecourse area, and the track crossed it at two points, which required the road itself to be closed whenever the track was in use and turf and straw to be temporarily laid on it to provide a continuous surface for the horses.

Modern aerial view, North at the top. You can see Melling Road splitting the
area into two, and that the links joining the two portions of the road circuit have gone
Sometime around 1953, someone in the Topham empire had the brainwave of constructing a race track for motor cars alongside the steeplechase course. It was a flat and rather uninspiring circuit compared with the great European tracks, to be sure, but, since racing on public roads – even closed public roads – was illegal in the UK, a track on private land provided a much-needed venue, it was at least as interesting as the perimeter tracks of retired WW2 airfields (which provided most of the British venues at that time, for a sport that was growing rapidly in popularity) and – spectacularly – it could share the very substantial grandstands and spectator amenities built for the Grand National, which was a very attractive proposition indeed. At the time, it was announced as “the Goodwood of the North”, which seems odd now, but the idea of a combined horse and car racing facility on private land (as had been built by the Duke of Richmond, near Chichester, in Sussex) was very appealing. Naturally, race reports and films of the day refer sniffily to the unattractive nature of Liverpool itself, and the “throat catching stink” of the British Enka works next door. Monte Carlo it certainly was not.

Start of the 1962 Aintree 200 (by this time the race was 200 Km, not miles),
showing the impressive grandstands

Just to prove they weren't really monochrome cars, here's Bonnier, the Swedish
driver, in a factory-entered Porsche at the 1960 "200" race - his car was, erm, silver...
The Aintree circuit had a 3-mile “Grand Prix” version, which utilised the big Grand National facilities and required closure of the Melling Road, as discussed. The Council may just about have been prepared to close it for a big honey-pot like the country’s biggest horse race, but motor racing was a different proposition altogether, and a sniping war between the city’s elected and the Tophams was a feature of the period. There was also a smaller, “club” circuit which did not need the road to be closed, but which therefore did not use the main pit building or the big grandstands. It did, however, allow crowds to stand on the romantically named Railway Embankment, from which you could see almost all of the track (if you had remarkable eyesight).

The first motor race meeting was long before my time, and the cars ran anti-clockwise – I think this was simply because it was the same direction as the horses. Afterwards, the racing was always clockwise, which is more normal for cars (for some reason). Mrs Topham was thinking big right from the outset – she obviously had designs on hosting the world championship British Grand Prix at Aintree, and – location apart – the venue had some very obvious attractions. She got her way very quickly – in 1955 the British GP was held there, in very hot weather in July, and it was a huge success. There was mixed feeling about the German Mercedes team finishing 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the big race, only 14 years after the Luftwaffe had been busily bombing the port of Liverpool into ruins, but the German team were smart enough to arrange for young Stirling Moss to win the race, ahead of his great team-mate, Juan Fangio, so everyone was very happy.

Moss wins the 1955 GP, from Fangio
And again in 1957, this time for the Vanwall team
Of course, there was more politics behind the scenes. The organising body of the British GP at Aintree was the Royal Automobile Club, and they made it a huge spectacle, rather upstaging the previous efforts at Silverstone, a converted airfield in Northamptonshire, where the organising body was the British Racing Drivers Club (a lot more blazers and moustaches at Silverstone, then). The rivalry produced a short-lived compromise whereby the respective organisers and venues took turn about to host the British GP. The Aintree “200” (200 miles) race was an international event held each year before the start of the world championship season began in earnest, and this quickly became established as a major event on the calendar each Spring. Aintree had its turn of staging the Grand Prix itself in 1955 (when Moss won his first world championship race, as mentioned), in 1957 (when Moss went one better and won in the Vanwall, thus becoming the first British winner of a Grande Epreuve in a British car since Henry Segrave’s exploits with the Sunbeam in the 1920s), in 1959 (when Brabham won in a Cooper-Climax – a rear-engined car – on his way to becoming world champion that year), in 1961 (when I was there, as I shall describe shortly) and – out of sequence and for the last time – in 1962 (when Jimmy Clark won it in a Lotus). Thereafter the British GP was triumphantly taken back to its “rightful” home and the blazers at Silverstone, where it has been held – apart from a few years at Brands Hatch, in Kent – ever since.

I was taken to the “200” meeting in 1959 by my “Uncle” Duggie, a family friend. It was a very long day out, and I was very young, so I think that, since I have no recollection of seeing Jean Behra, the French driver, win in a works Ferrari, we may have left before the end of the main event.

After that I went to the “200” race each year, on my own or – sometimes – with a school chum. The fact that nobody ever went with me a second time suggests that already, at that age, my obsessive brand of enthusiasm was a difficult thing to be subjected to for a complete day out! It was a real adventure. I would set off from home at around 7am on the Saturday morning, wrapped in my warmest clothing, with an old gas-mask satchel containing a day’s supply of sardine sandwiches and Penguin biscuits. The number 61 bus would take about an hour to get me up to Walton, in the north end of the city, and then the best bet was just to walk to Aintree and the circuit. I would get there around 9:30 to 10, I guess, and the public address system would be playing the BBC’s Saturday morning programmes – including the legendary “Uncle Mac” and his children’s musical request show. If I ever hear any of those novelty tunes from that time I can still see Aintree racecourse on a shivery, grey morning, with the odd sports car warming up on the track and the grandstands slowly filling up as the wealthier ticket-holders arrived.

Typically, a day’s racing would have events for Formula Junior (single seaters with production engines of about 1 litre – this was regarded as a great training ground for the future GP stars), sports cars, saloon cars and GT (Grand Touring) cars as well as the big Formula 1 event, so it was a long, long day. I used to get into the (cheap) public enclosure, and go to the top of the Railway Embankment, where I would sit on my plastic raincoat, armed with my plastic binoculars. You were a long way from the cars, but you could see a lot of the track, and the fastest part ran past the embankment. You could get closer to the action by going to the bottom of the bank, of course, but the cars were still the other side of the Grand National track, and the big jumps on the horse track meant that you only got a glimpse of the cars as they whizzed between two adjacent jumps. Up at the top was best – it was windy, and it was uncomfortable, but it was the place to go. Sadly, I did not have a camera, and I lost my treasured souvenir programmes years ago – they probably fell to pieces, in fact.

I only once attended the Grand Prix – in 1961. That was a very exciting season. The international body which ran the F1 championship had changed the rules so that the engines were reduced to 1.5 litres. The British had just started to become successful under the previous rules, and so did what the British always tend to do – they wasted the two years notice period protesting about the rule changes. The Italian team, Ferrari, of course, just got on with developing new cars for the new rules, so that by the time the 1961 season got under way the British teams were all using bought-in 4-cylinder Coventry Climax engines, developing around 145 bhp, while the Ferraris had nice new V6-cylinder jobs developing about 185 bhp, and increasing to around 200 bhp later in the season. The season should have been a walkover for Ferrari, but they had a team of drivers which was probably their weakest for some years (good enough drivers, but no real stars – they had two Americans, Phil Hill and Ritchie Ginther, and a German nobleman, Count Wolfgang Berghe von Trips), and also Stirling Moss produced some real virtuoso performances in his underpowered Lotus at Monte Carlo and at the German Nurburgring, and he really punched well above his weight. For a while, it looked as though he might be able to offer a heroic challenge for the championship title.

Lord, didn't it rain... here is the start in 1961, with the shark-nosed Ferraris to the fore
When I went to the British GP at Aintree in July, Von Trips, Phil Hill and Moss had already each won one race, and things were looking set for a real thriller of a season. Race day was awful – torrential rain of monsoon proportions was a feature of the main race. I was absolutely soaked through. In the early stages of the race, Moss took advantage of his ability in the tricky conditions and harrassed the more powerful Ferraris, but eventually he was forced to retire, and Von Trips, Hill and Ginther finished in line astern in the first three places, well ahead of the rather breathless opposition. After his retirement, Moss took over  the new, experimental, 4-wheel drive Ferguson car which had also been entered by his team, and circulated very quickly in the wet conditions. Of course, he was not challenging for the race lead, but I believe that I can thus claim that, in the Ferguson on that day, I got a glimpse of the last front-engined car ever to run in a Grand Prix.

Von Trips led for most of the race
Moss chased the Ferraris for a while...

...and when the rain was at its heaviest he got up to second place, but his car didn't last
So he had a shot in the experimental 4WD Ferguson, last front-engined GP racer
ever. In the background is the Railway Embankment, with the weather
gradually improving - I was somewhere near the top middle, soaking wet
So Moss didn’t win, and his world championship hopes slid further. With the fickleness of youth, I decided that if my British hero could not win then I would also support the Ferraris, the handsome young German nobleman seemed a suitable back-up hero, and the most likely favourite for the championship, so I transferred at least part of my allegiance to Von Trips.

Von Trips looks subdued at the end of the race. Perhaps he was as
cold and wet as I was. He was now the strong favourite for the
World Championship, but he was dead within six weeks
A few weeks later, Moss won brilliantly in the German GP, but the next race was at the very fast Monza circuit, for the Italian race, and no-one was expected to get close to the Ferraris. My new hero, Von Trips, was killed very publicly and in very gladiatorial fashion when his car crashed on the second lap at Monza and he was thrown out onto the track. Phil Hill won the race and claimed a joyless championship for Ferrari. I was appalled by the accident, but recovered sufficiently to take an interest in the start of the 1962 season, for which the British teams had new engines and were expected to be competitive. For reasons which have never been explained, Moss crashed in the Easter Monday race at Goodwood, before the championship season commenced, and was seriously injured. His life was in the balance for a while, but he recovered, though he never raced at the top level again.

That did it – I gave up on motor racing. It was 1980 before I started following F1 racing seriously again, and it was 1985 before I attended an international event again. As is the nature of things, those boyhood heroes were bigger and brighter, their cars more spectacular, their exploits more hair-raising, though in reality the racing of the early 1960s was a brave but feeble effort compared to the modern sport.

When I was in the 6th Form at grammar school, I once “sagged off” during a free study morning, and, just for old times’ sake, took the old 61 bus up to Walton, trekked up to Aintree, climbed through the gates at Melling Road and walked around the old Grand Prix circuit in the rain – I think I gave up before I got back to the grandstands, but I waved to the empty Railway Embankment as I passed.

Here are a couple of the nostalgia visit pics from 2004 which kicked off this
reminiscence - here are three British Grand Prix cars from the 1950s, from
left to right, the green cars are a 1952 HWM, a 1953 Cooper-Bristol and a
1955 B-Type Connaught - all before my time!

A much more competitive car - this is a Maserati 250F - quite a low, late one
- maybe 1957
The Club Circuit still exists – there are races there, but none of them involves the full track, and they are all minor events. In 2004 I went down there with a friend to visit a special open day which featured guest appearances by Stirling Moss, Tony Brooks and Roy Salvadori – British stars from Aintree’s heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. There was a bus trip around the track, which was fun, and there were a lot of old cars on display. We also signed a massive petition objecting to a planned redevelopment which would permanently destroy what was left of the old Grand Prix circuit – housing and new grandstands near the old Melling Crossing. In fact the fund-raiser and the petition gave the fleeting appearance of being a faint scam, since it seems that the planning permission for the development had already been signed off, and the changes were not up for negotiation. I imagine the Topham family had lost interest in international motor racing long before this date also.

The circuit is mostly still there – the TV camera car drives along it to film the horse racing at Aintree – but the old Melling Road now has to be closed only for the horses, which is traditional and is probably as it should be. The upstart RAC British Grand Prix in the North is long gone, as is the 12-year-old with the sardine sandwiches, but it is still a little sad to think that the asphalt track where Fangio and Co raced is just a service road now.

Sunday 25 January 2015

Hooptedoodle #162 - A Plague of Narcissism?

What is this lady doing, then? Is she trying desperately to get a signal on her mobile phone (is she, like me, an EE customer?)? Perhaps she has a solar-powered pacemaker for some serious heart condition? Is it some strange new Japanese golf club, to get you out of a bunker?

No - of course, everyone knows, she is taking a selfie - how wonderful. She even has a BlueTooth-enabled selfie-stick, so that the photo looks more as though she had a friend who might have taken it for her. Everyone, it seems, is taking selfies. It is the thing to do - which may mean, unfortunately, that one day fashion will dictate that it is no longer the thing to do, in which case we shall very quickly have to think up something even more stupid.

I was very shaken to read in Yahoo News (which comes, I regret to say, as part of my email service) that there is a growing crime-wave associated with selfie-sticks; it seems that there are organised gangs, no less, in popular tourist sites, who will take the opportunity to steal the phone from the end of an innocent selfie-taker's stick, and make off with it. OMG. [If you, too, are shaken by this story, please remember that the number of selfie-takers who are impacted by this dreadful development is still very small - thus far....]

I have never taken a selfie. I cannot imagine wanting to take one, to be honest, so I have mentioned to potential gift-purchasers that they should not bother getting me a selfie-stick - even a BlueTooth enabled one. With luck, people will one day say of me, in low whispers, "do you know, as far as we know he never once took a selfie - unbelievable. Mind you, we have no photos of him at all, so it may be that he was dreadfully ugly..."

The whole idea of selfies seems to me to be consistent with the popular wish to be a celebrity - look at me - my photos are all over Facebook - how cool is that? I even tell everyone when I'm going to be on holiday, and where I keep the spare front door key. Awesome.

For the novice, or would-be, selfie-taker, here is a very useful flowchart from those wonderful people at the DoghouseDiaries, to give a guide as to when it is appropriate to take a selfie:

Two thoughts occur - one more serious than the other.

Firstly, I am reminded of a very sad story from many years ago - supposedly based on fact. An unmarried schoolmistress reached the end of her long career, and decided to spend a hefty portion of her retirement sum on a once-in-a-lifetime tour of the Far East. This would take a few months, and would involve solitary travel to some of the most exotic locations on the planet. In support of this, her work colleagues clubbed together and bought her a very nice, up-market, compact camera, and a mass of film for it, so that she could have a fitting record of her wonderful trip.

She went on her world tour, and when she got home she found a great pile of developed films (remember them?) returned to her from Kodak, which she had posted off for processing from many points throughout her journey. Sadly, she had never really understood the viewfinder on the camera, and she had toured the Far East taking photos with the camera reversed, peering the wrong way through the viewfinder, trying to make sense of what was out there. She had many hundreds of out-of-focus pictures of her right ear, taken at huge expense at the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and many other wonderful locations.

Would this lady have been better or worse off in the age of the selfie-stick? Discuss.

Second thought. My mother has a big padded envelope which contains ancient photos of relations and ancestors going back to the 1870s - fascinating. Not only is this a family record, it is a fabulous insight into fashions, social history, transport and all sorts of things. Some of these pictures are faded and battered, a few are in a pretty poor state, and it is my intention to scan them all very soon, so that I have some proper form of back-up if they all turn to dust. That got me thinking. How secure is a digital back-up, in the long term, anyway?

In an age when so many digital pictures are taken - throwaway, worthless pictures, most of them, who is it that is serious enough or organised enough to set up proper archiving to ensure that we will still be able to find and read these pictures 150 years from now? Will our descendants in the 23rd Century have a useful equivalent of my mother's envelope? Will they have any record of what their long-dead forebears looked like? Even the odd selfie from Margate?

Friday 23 January 2015

A Matter of Honour - The Professor and the Field Marshal

I have to record that the kicking-off point for this post was a recent entry in the blog of the worthy Old Trousers, which is invariably entertaining, and often usefully informative, so my thanks for that, Mr Trousers. [I must add here that I do not have the self-confidence to handle these noms de blog with ease – I pondered whether it would be more matey to address the gentleman in question as just “Old” – for short – but decided against it]

His blog post, you see, made me aware that the long-awaited Blücher game in the Honour series is due to appear very soon. [Again, this gets me near to the edge of my natural comfort zone, since I would be very nervous about the risk of appearing enthusiastic]

It’s a demography thing, really. The dates of the beginning of the post-war growth of miniatures wargaming, along with the inevitable passage of time since then, mean that of recent years we have lost a few of the pioneering heroes of the hobby, and there have been appropriate tributes published – without stopping to check the back-obits, I would recognise that Paddy Griffith, Terry Wise, and Don Featherstone all made a big contribution to my own fascination with tabletop warfare, and there are many others – some of them still alive! – to whom I also owe a great deal. I don’t really do eulogies – not because I am unappreciative, you understand, but because somehow it seems silly when I try to write one. It feels like saying “me too”, but not quite loud enough for anyone to hear.

It is entirely correct that we recognise these key individuals from the past, but I have to say that there is also a list of more recent people that I take very seriously – among so much that is good and positive, there are a few thinkers and rule-writers who particularly strike a chord with me, who can be relied on to give well thought-out games, or at the very least to talk sense. This is all very subjective, and anybody might object to my personal list, or feel I have overlooked someone far more important – they would almost certainly be correct.

Dr Sam A Mustafa
I invariably find the works of Frank Chadwick, Howard Whitehouse and the guys from the Too Fat Lardies worthwhile; I also got a lot out of the commonsense approach of Doc Monaghan’s Big Battalions, and of recent years, of course, I have become quite a fan of Richard Borg. To me, one of the most impressive of the lot has been Dr Sam A Mustafa, the man behind the Honour series of games, and he is my subject for this morning.

Dr Mustafa is a historian and a teaching professor at a US college, so his authorship of wargames is a sideline – by his own admission, the time he has available for the hobby stuff is limited. I first came across him when I became very keen on his Grande Armée Napoleonic rules, and on the later, beta-test prototype Fast Play Grande Armée, which was an unsupported variant which was available for download online for a while.

Let me put this into context – “very keen” in my case does not mean I actually adopted GA as my rules of choice, but I found much that was fresh and sensible in there, and some of the ideas were a big influence on subsequent changes to my own in-house rules. I particularly liked the fact that the rules were aimed at a size of game which I found most enjoyable (i.e. big), and I liked the abstraction or suppression of fiddly bits which were mostly a distraction in a big game. Examples were the disappearance of musketry volleys into a simple, combined close combat phase, what seemed to me to be a novel, practical approach to skirmishers, and the removal of explicit divisional artillery batteries from the game – such artillery was now just an adjustment to the combat effectiveness of each division. Yes – I know – this stuff doesn’t suit everyone, but for big games I found all this very sensible. I had some issues with the Command and Control rules, but then I always do.

In particular, a feature of the Grande Armée booklet is a series of explanatory panels which explain the rationale behind some of the less orthodox rules, in terms of the realities of Napoleonic warfare – I consider these notes to have been worth the price of the booklet, just as an educator and something to get me thinking.

In time, Dr Sam launched his Honour series, and the first product I became aware of was Lasalle. A couple of things about Lasalle: I was a little disappointed that the rules book was of a newly-fashionable format which I call “Big Shiny Books” (BSB), I was surprised that the game was almost a step back towards Old School from GA (it was, after all, aimed at smaller battles), and I had a personal problem in that I could have used my existing armies – organisation and bases – absolutely as they stood, apart from artillery – 3-model batteries would not be an insurmountable obstacle, obviously, but I was reluctant to start dabbling with a very expensive ruleset which required immediate tweaks, right at the outset, to suit my armies. The key word here is “expensive” – BSBs are always too thick, too heavy, packed with irrelevant pictures (to amuse those with a short attention span?), overpriced and far too costly to mail to the UK from America. You can, of course, download a simpler pdf file, but then you have to pay for the ink, the paper and some kind of binder. Hmmm. In fact I did find a cheap secondhand copy of the hardback version in the UK, on eBay, so I own it but – like the gentleman accordionist – I have not yet played it (though I intend to).

What I was really excited about in the Honour series was that a grand-tactical companion game, Blücher, was next in the queue. Well, after some announcements about delays, Blücher was eventually shelved because, said Dr Sam, they couldn’t get it to work well enough, and so they had cut their losses. If you can have degrees of devastation, I was certainly a bit devastated. I took the huff sufficiently to pay scant attention to Maurice and Longstreet and the next products in the series, though I heard they were excellent, and by personal choice I steer clear of user forums (which always seem to me to be dominated by points-scoring exchanges between opinionated guys who don’t know very much), so I was very pleasantly surprised when the Trouser man recently announced that Blücher is back in the plan. Yes!

It looks good – it features an integral mini-campaign system called Scharnhorst, and a whole pile of other goodies, and it is expected to appear in February. There are copious downloadable samples and illustrations on the Honour website, and there is a series of excellent introductory podcasts done by the man himself. The original intention was to have a series of four podcasts, ending before Christmas, but they generated so much interest and so many further questions that Mustafa has produced a fifth, which may well be the start of an occasional series. I listened to all the podcasts last night. The first four are interesting to anyone who might be thinking of buying the game, of course, but the fifth is a beauty – though he apologises for going into detail, Mustafa spends some time explaining the design features of the game, including some of his personal philosophy on what works and what does not work in a wargame of this type, and an extended discussion of activation mechanisms – this, admittedly, is just the sort of thing I find interesting, but if you are with me on this, I recommend it highly – you’ll find it here.

That’s probably quite enough about that – the book will be expensive, that is for sure, and the add-ons (packs of unit cards for specific campaigns and so forth) will all be a further expense, but it looks very promising. It is designed to be playable using printed unit cards as well as with miniatures. I hope it will be available through a European retail outlet, or the postal costs will leave the poor old camel with a badly broken back!

Thursday 22 January 2015

Hooptedoodle #161 - Feathered Visitor

Apart from gale force winds last week, we have been very lucky with the weather here - there has been plenty of snow further south. Our garden bird feeders are still very busy, and we are getting geared up for the RSPB's national Garden Birdwatch this coming weekend.

Right on cue, we have seen a visitor in the garden that we haven't seen for years - a Brambling. A kind of finch, can be mistaken for a male Chaffinch if you are in a hurry. They are not specially rare, in fact, but we haven't seen one here for about 10 years or more.

So warm greetings to the Brambling (who won't go on the feeders - just cleans up the scraps the others have dropped, but there are plenty of them) - ideally, we need it to reappear during the observation period of the Birdwatch, so we can record it on the sheet, but we won't be too upset if it doesn't show!

Sunday 18 January 2015

ECW Campaign - another new General

This is General William Forbes Geddes, commanding the troops of the Scottish Army of the Covenant serving in Lancashire. "Big Willie" was born in 1592 at Seton Grange, Haddington, youngest son of Alexander Geddes - a wealthy landowner and salt merchant - and his wife Margaret Fallon. A professional soldier since he left school, where he was noted for his prowess in both Latin and wrestling, Geddes is a strange mixture - considered a "hard man" and pretty much humourless, yet he is very highly regarded by his troops, because of his reputation for ensuring that pay and provisions are supplied promptly and in full measure. Unusually tall for the day, he is also gifted with remarkable physical strength which is legendary - at the Siege of Heidelberg (1622) he is said to have  thrown a Spanish officer into the river Neckar on one of the rare occasions when he lost his temper.

This casting is by Art Miniaturen, and my humble paintwork is of interest (to me) only in that it is the first time I have made exclusive use of the (cheap) Deco-Art "Crafter" acrylic paints. No particular problems - coverage is not quite so dense as with the more exotic brands, but it's OK, and anything which makes it possible for me to stay away from the GW shops has to be good.

By the way, if anyone noticed a short-lived post earlier this week, it featured a YouTube clip which refused to run properly in Blogger, so I scrapped it. Fair enough - sorry about that.

Tuesday 13 January 2015

Hooptedoodle #160 - Customer Service Message

Random image
I received a rather worrying email from Peter, who was unable to read my Blog yesterday - something had gone wrong and the text was unintelligible (even more so than usual, apparently). I have checked with my technology people, and it seems that the fault may most likely have been with Peter's web browser. However, I'm obviously concerned if I am putting stuff out there which can't be read, so I do take this very seriously.

If you cannot read this post - and by that I mean cannot read it at all - then please send me a comment, describing what you can see, and we'll attempt to get things fixed straight away. I can only assure you that customer comfort and satisfaction are always absolute priorities in our Job Mission statement. If you wish to read terms and conditions of use, or see details of the standard Prometheus in Aspic service level agreement, then we suggest that you go and pour a stiff drink and write them yourself.

Monday 12 January 2015

Hooptedoodle #159 - Feeding the Neighbours

Breaking the ice on the drinking water is always a popular move
We have always been very fond of the birds in our garden - there are plenty of them, since we have a fair-sized wood just over the garden wall, and we try to keep the feeders stocked in the winter months. Watching them has given us an immense amount of pleasure over the years.

This Christmas, the Contesse was presented with a more sophisticated lens to go with the new camera she got last Christmas (I'm not very good at the imagination thing), and her photos of the visiting birds are suddenly a lot better - so much so that I thought I'd share some of them. Nothing too rare or exciting in the varieties that turned up, but it's nice to see them close up, enjoying a meal on some of our more pleasant days (i.e. before the gales started). We have an extensive menu of lunch specials on offer, including niger seeds, sunflower kernels, suet, nuts and some extremely disgusting dried mealworms. The customers seem to approve. The only question we would like an answer to is, where have all the greenfinches gone? Two or three years ago they were among the most common visitors, but we see hardly any now. The answer, I'm almost certain, is simply that they are dining in someone else's garden, but I would be upset if something more dramatic had happened to them.

Anyway, here's a selection of what constitute common-or-garden birds on the East Coast of Scotland around New Year time.

Blue Tits on the nuts

Handsome male Chaffinch

Coal Tit

Collared Dove - won't go near the feeders, but will hoover up anything dropped
on the ground

I love these little guys - Goldfinches - you either get none or you get a crowd

Great Tit

The enigmatic Nuthatch - spends most of his life hanging upside-down; a
pretty bird, but aggressive. One of Nature's failed prototypes?

The dumbest bird in the garden - a cock pheasant who survived the Christmas shoot;
I read somewhere that they are terribly inbred - most pheasants in Britain
today are descendants of a very small number that were imported originally,
which may explain the low IQ. It has to be said that the females are even more
daft than the males - they forget where they've laid their eggs, for a start.

Robin (yes, yes, all right...)

My favourite of the lot - a female Greater Spotted Woodpecker - sometimes we get
an entire family group on the feeders together, which is spectacular