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

Saturday 30 January 2016

Hooptedoodle #209 - The Saga of Lawrence's Dad

My mother appears to be recovering slowly but steadily from her recent injury and subsequent illness, which is a source of relief to the whole family, though the time I spend commuting to Edinburgh to visit her in hospital is unlikely to reduce for a few weeks yet. So the exact timing of the next step is uncertain at the moment, but the outlook is much more promising.

As part of this full-time involvement in hospitals and matters connected with convalescence and disability, we’ve been doing a lot of online research into the darker mysteries of things like nursing homes (which I hope we will not require for a while), and the delicate matter of who pays for what, in which circumstances. I would describe this field of study as necessary, rather than interesting in its own right.

I am reminded of a former work colleague of mine, Lawrence, who once had a lot of trouble trying to sort out adequate arrangements for his elderly father.

Years ago, Lawrence was my boss for a while – we got on unusually well, since we were both rather misfit members of a profession which is noted mainly for its druidic tendency to self-obsession, and for a deep suspicion of anything which offers even a hint of creativity or humour. Lawrence and I didn’t really fit the profile, so we got on famously (with each other – I can’t promise that we necessarily got on with the rest of the profession).

His father was a retired police officer, a widower – showing clear signs of early dementia, but determined (to the point of violence, if necessary) to retain his independence. When I first met Lawrence, his dad had recently moved in with them, since he was becoming unsafe in his own house. It was not going well. There was a series of harrowing incidents which caused Lawrence’s wife a lot of stress, and which resulted in some rather odd phone messages – here are a few that I recall:

(1) The old guy (Bob, his name was) spilt tea on the landing carpet, and set about sorting things out by lifting the carpet and putting it – complete with tacks and underfelt – in the washing machine, which destroyed both items. Interestingly, the insurance company refused to pay up for damage caused by a deranged family member.

(2) He broke the lock on the bathroom door, but rectified this by wedging the door shut, while he was in there. Since he could not remember what he had done to achieve this, they had to break open the door to rescue him.

(3) Ah yes - the episode of the Wall Clock. Old Bob took exception to a large, antique, wall-mounted clock in the hall – he claimed that its chiming kept him awake. When they protested that it had not chimed for years, he reckoned that it was the ticking which disturbed him, so they stopped winding it, and it ticked no more. Still not satisfied, Bob took it down from the wall, about 2 o’clock one morning, and threw it out of the front door, down the steps into the garden. That showed it.

(4) They started to get complaints that Bob was shouting abuse out of the upstairs window at passers-by.

At this point, Lawrence’s wife threw in the towel, and the old man went to live with Lawrence’s younger sister, who worked from home and would be better able to keep an eye on him.

It all started very promisingly. Bob took a liking to his daughter’s dog, and started getting up early, washing and shaving and polishing his shoes, and taking the dog for long walks. They could not believe the improvement in his general behaviour and his awareness, but it was too good to last. After a few days, the police arrived to tell them that Bob and the dog were at the police station, since he had been apprehended for exposing himself outside the local primary school.

Around this time I was transferred to another job, in a different part of the organisation – different building, different part of the city, and I lost touch with Lawrence, who was desperately trying to get his dad into a residential home, and was getting nothing but grief from the old guy in return.

Time passed – as it does – and some years later I bumped into Lawrence at lunchtime in one of the Company’s numerous canteens – I knew that he had had some health problems, and he didn’t look wonderful, but I was pleased to meet him and we had lunch together.

We spoke of this and that, and eventually I brought up the fact that last time I had met him he had been having a lot of trouble getting his father into a nursing home. I said that I hoped things had worked out well, and asked how his dad was doing.

“Still dead,” said Lawrence, with a huge grin.


Sunday 24 January 2016

ECW - a Bit of Planning Ahead

Alexander Leslie, Lord Leven - commander of the Covenanter army in 1644
- getting on a bit in years, but he was the real deal - he had been a Field
Marshal in the Swedish Army in the 30 Years War
Still a desperate shortage of hobby time, but I’ve been spending some of my train and bus journeys thinking, reading and scribbling notes about a possible ECW tabletop battle to introduce my chiropractor (whom, for the sake of argument, I shall call David the Cruncher) to both the history of that war and the idea of playing games with toy soldiers. 

The Marquis of Newcastle - maybe the richest man in England? - no
soldier, but he almost singlehandedly funded and raised the troops for the
King in the North East. No match for Leven on the battlefield. I've never
understood why he was not treated better, by his monarch and by subsequent
historians. Emigrated to Germany after Marston Moor.
Since David is from that part of the country, I thought it might be rather fun to set the action in the 1644 campaign around Sunderland, when the Covenanters were busy ignoring the City of Newcastle (a subject which they took up again with fresh interest after they had helped win the Battle of Marston Moor). I have been doing a fair amount of swotting-up, since my detailed knowledge of this campaign is not great, and since it falls into that off-mainstream category of ECW history that is usually classified as “of interest only to local historical societies” (which is exactly the sort of thing I am interested in).

I read about the storming of the Lawe Top fort in South Shields, which the Scots had to capture in order to protect their supply ships (which were sailing from Leith to Sunderland, and were being intercepted and forced into the Tyne). That seemed to score highly for relevance, but it was a small action, and would be a fiddly, awkward game for a newbie.

Now I am growing increasingly focused on the battle which took place (or, more accurately, didn’t quite take place) on the Boldon Hills, just West of Sunderland, in March 1644. Reasonably sized armies faced each other, but the weather was poor, and the ground may have been a bit rough, or maybe the armies were too closely matched for either side to risk an attack – whatever the reason, there was an exchange of artillery and a bit of a skirmish, but in the evening the Scots withdrew to Sunderland and the Royalists headed towards Durham. During this withdrawal, the Marquis of Newcastle received news of the Royalist defeat at Selby, and set off to York – a move which led him eventually to disaster at Marston Moor.

In my thirst for understanding of the local area, I visited
the website of West Boldon Community Council. Since I was
thinking vaguely of a possible visit, I checked Forthcoming
Events - it says there are no forthcoming events, so that's official then
The (non-)Battle of Boldon is also known as Hylton, or Hilton – my source is primarily Stuart Reid’s wonderful All the King’s Armies, but I have also picked up some scraps in my various Montrose books, and I have just started on Rosie Serdiville’s and John Sadler’s The Great Siege of Newcastle 1644, which also looks quite good. [And then of course there are also Stuart Reid’s invaluable books on the Scottish Regiments of the ECW and on the Royalist officers and regiments – once again, I have to offer humble thanks for Stuart’s research and his writings – this particular wargamer would be greatly disadvantaged without all that hard work!]

St Nicholas' Church, West Boldon, which in parts dates back to 1212
Not so rural nowadays - a view of Sunderland, including the football
stadium, from the top of the Boldon Hills - mostly, I included this photo
to upset Clive
I have a pretty convincing looking OOB shaping up, and I even have a map. For a wild moment I thought of driving down to Boldon to look at the place, but my track record for that sort of thing is not good – I usually find the battlefield is underneath a modern sewage farm or similar, and even if it is not I am unusually bad at interpreting the ground. I believe that the village of West Boldon contains a church, St Nicholas, which was around at the time, so I have no doubt that will appear somewhere on the table.

Hmmm – seems promising. I am sure you will hear more of this.

Not relevant at all, but in the course of my ECW studies I came across this photo
of Cromwell's Stone, from the site of the Leaguer of Lathom House (which
was in Lancashire, of course, and Cromwell never set foot within miles
of the place as far as I know) - local tradition has it that the holes
were used to cast cannonballs, but to me this is clear evidence that the
rules in use for the ECW in those parts used very large six-sided dice

Monday 18 January 2016

Scottish Castles - Andrew Spratt

Tantallon under repair after one of the periodic unpleasantnesses - this
time in 1529, repairs commissioned by King James V.
Artwork by Andrew Spratt.
I've recently been attempting to give my chiropractor (no, really) an overview of the history of Tantallon Castle, which happens to be next door to where I live, and the history has been a bit violent (nothing to do with me - mostly before my time, in fact).

In the course of some background reading, I came across a useful and attractive resource - the work of Andrew Spratt. Mr Spratt is a graphic artist who works for Historic Scotland, and he is Custodian of Dirleton Castle (which is also near here). He has produced a fascinating series of paintings of reconstructions of Scottish Castles, and also some Scottish battle scenes, which may be found from the link above.

Knights at Bannockburn  - Andrew Spratt
His work is all copyright, so please treat with due respect - anyone interested in medieval warfare, or Scottish history, or castles and fortifications should have a look.

Saturday 16 January 2016

Hooptedoodle #208 - Collecting, and the Schlumpfs

A line of 1920s GP Bugattis in the original Schlumpf building
Still no time for hobbies here, so again I’ve fallen back on the Hooptedoodle Theme to keep my blogging eye sharp. This morning my lady wife and I were pondering the general topic of collections, including the delicate grey area where enthusiasm crosses over into obsession and (whisper it) monomania.

I had been comforting myself recently, in the absence of any wargaming time, by having the occasional quick review of my troops – in The Cupboard and also in The Boxes. I enjoy them – I am pleased that I have them, they represent the fruits of a lengthy interest in military history and its supporting toys, and they mean a great deal to me, though – as we have discussed – their financial worth is miniscule, and in truth there are very few people who would cross the street to see them.

That’s all fine – that is probably what hobby collections amount to. The Contesse and I spoke of a theme which features in much crime fiction: the potential theft of (for example) the Mona Lisa. There are a number of good yarns around this – the fiendishly cunning plan to achieve the theft is obviously a key element in the story, but I always get distracted by just why someone would wish to steal it. What could he do with it? Where could he keep it? Whom could he tell about it, or show it to? What pleasure could he possibly gain from it? What would it be worth, in fact? Would this be a collection too far?

Maybe the answers to all of these are obvious and intuitive – I don’t know – for myself, I even get to worrying about how the thief could insure it…

I know of a man in the USA who has one of George Harrison's guitars - it is priceless - he keeps it in a bank vault. He rarely sees it. It may appreciate in value, but why does it have a value, anyway? What good is it? Is he simply depriving others of the chance of owning it? Hmmm.

This is all idle daydreaming, but I have always been fascinated, in particular, by the tale of the Schlumpf brothers – you may well be familiar with it, but it is remarkable in many ways. The Schlumpfs were Swiss by birth, they owned a textile manufacturing firm in Mulhouse, in Alsace, and they were extremely successful. Their story is told well and entertainingly in The Schlumpf Obsession, by Denis Jenkinson (a book which I once owned – the subject of obsessive book collecting is a completely separate theme, of course). In brief, the firm eventually went bust during the 1970s, and the brothers disappeared, owing money to everyone in sight – especially their own workers. There was a mysterious locked building on the factory site, and when it was opened it was found to contain the most astounding collection of veteran and vintage automobiles – mostly restored and in perfect working order.

Fritz Schlumpf with his personal Bugatti Type 41 Royale "Coupe Napoleon"
The lists are staggering – they had an unbelievable collection of Bugattis, but they also had classic vehicles from all the great marques. As a random, and unlikely, example…

In 1956 the Bugatti firm had one last go at re-entering Grand Prix racing – they commissioned a very advanced design for a rear-engined car, the Type 251, and were bullied (by the French government and the Automobile Club de France) into entering it for the French GP of that year, long before it was properly tested and sorted. The car was entered to be driven by Trintignant, ran very slowly and eventually retired with carburation problems. It was never seen again – it was scrapped when the Bugatti organisation was wound up.

Well, in fact it wasn’t – it was in the Schlumpf collection all the time, as was an additional, spare car which the team had built as a back-up.

The mysterious Type 251 of 1956 - not dead at all - you can go and tap on the
bodywork if you want - well, maybe best not to...
The locked garage was fitted out in sumptuous luxury – the cars were laid out in grand style, in a gravelled showroom setting, with super-expensive custom-built Belgian cast-iron lamps to show them off – the building also featured at least two restaurants. The Schlumpfs used to entertain ladies from time to time, apparently. Well, you know what they say about ladies and expensive cars. [What do they say, anyway? – I haven’t the faintest idea…]

It is an ambition of mine to visit the collection at some time, but I’ve never managed it. It was taken over by a workers’ co-operative and ultimately sold, and now forms part of the augmented and rehoused Cité de l’Automobile attraction in Mulhouse – I am less sure of the recent history. If anyone has visited it, I’d be delighted to hear about it.

So there you have it – the Schlumpf Collection – discuss. Were they truly happy with their priceless secret hoard of motoring exotica? Was it worth the investment, and the eventual, disastrous loss? Were they really so desperate to gain female companionship?

[In passing, I should add that it never occurred to me that ladies might be interested in my Napoleonic armies, so my conscience is completely clear on this count. I quite like the idea of a couple of restaurants in the games room, mind you.]

Friday 8 January 2016

Hooptedoodle #207 - Talking about the Weather...

Grey sky, grey rocks, grey water
It's a noble British tradition - if there isn't much time, let's waste what there is talking about the weather. My first wife used to spend a lot of each winter telling everyone she met how cold it was - you can see this was a serious responsibility - they might have failed to notice otherwise.

The thing which is notable about this morning is that it is the first time this year it has not been raining here - by Malaysian standards that would not be very impressive, but we have seen very little in the way of daylight during the past week - the security light on my garage keeps switching on because it thinks it's night time. Also the skylight windows in our roof are turning green with algae, or some form of aquatic plant, anyway. We have been relatively lucky - further north in Aberdeenshire they have been very severely impacted by wind and water - we at least have no flooding.

All this is just an excuse to post a photo I borrowed from our local community Facebook page - this was taken on Monday, when it was, as you see, a bit breezy. This shows a walkway over the rocks next to our harbour (you can see the handrail) - a recommended stroll in Summer, less so now. That's the Firth of Forth out there, people - almost the North Sea. Somewhere through the murk is the Kingdom of Fife.

Someone on the Facebook page commented that it looks good for surfing - there speaks someone who has never been surfing, sure as you're born.

Monday 4 January 2016

Hooptedoodle #206 - Donkey Award - Plastic Coffee Cups

Yesterday being the Sunday after New Year, things were pretty quiet at the hospital where my mother is currently convalescing. Since I was early for official visiting, I went into the little WRVS cafe on the ground floor, and got myself a sandwich and a cup of coffee. The volunteers that run the cafe are often as elderly as the patients, so it can be a slightly confusing place if you don't pay attention. Yesterday it was deserted apart from me and the lady who was in charge.

They have a coffee machine behind the counter - also pretty elderly - so I asked could I have a filter coffee with a little milk. "Is that an Americano with some milk?" said the lady, and I agreed it probably was, though the matter of lifestyle names for types of coffee is an irritation for another post, on another occasion.

My coffee was prepared, in a plastic cup, and the lady proceeded to clip a lid on the cup.

"Please don't bother with the lid," I said, "I'll just sit and drink it in here".

Can't be done, apparently. It was explained to me that the volunteer was not allowed to sell coffee without the lid, since I might turn around and spill scalding coffee over the person behind me in the queue, and she would be responsible. No point getting into a dispute about it, so I took my lidded coffee over to a table - I had a choice of 5 tables - the place was like the Marie Celeste - I would have had to go somewhere else to find someone to spill it on.

The main reason I didn't want the lid, of course, is because I detest them. The stupid hole in the lid doesn't allow the coffee to come out sensibly - serious efforts to suck the liquid out can probably result in a hernia - and the drips always finish up on my chin. So I set about removing the lid, and - you guessed - spilt hot coffee on my hand and my shirt cuff. It was, however, entirely my own fault, so that's OK.

Sunday 3 January 2016

Fortifications & Stuff - Picking Up a Few Loose Threads...

For the last month there has been very little time for hobbies here. My new-found momentum on the Spaniard-painting front has stopped abruptly – fortunately I have some splendid plastic hobby boxes which enable me to put incomplete painting projects away safely, on their bottletops, organised and safe from dust and accidents – I can even store the relevant brushes and pots of paint in there if need be.

I did manage to squeeze in a solo game after Christmas, but otherwise the only hobby-related thing I’ve done is keep an eye on an eBay auction that caught my attention – I didn’t buy anything, by the way.

I thought it might be useful (for me) if I tried to follow up on a couple of threads on fortifications which are hanging over from earlier posts; it is a commonplace for me to say “I am thinking of doing such and such” – having a note in a blog post is usually an indicator that I have thought about it and intend actually to do it. Mostly these things eventually get done, but there are occasions when they disappear or get delayed indefinitely. I rarely feel it is appropriate to publicise all bad breaks, so I am aware that there are a few sub-projects which have just vanished from view. For my own benefit, I’ve been checking up on these.

Vauban Fortress

A while ago I did an update on myVauban-style fortress pieces – I had discovered that the eventual owners of the moulds and the rights for my old Terrain Warehouse fort were now Hurlbat Games, I got in touch with them and established that they might be able to make some more of the pieces for me. Sadly that has been a dead end – not only did we not get anywhere useful, but Hurlbat stopped replying to emails, so I am not sure if they have had some commercial dommage. Strike One.

ECO Vacuum-formed Castle

I still have plans to paint up my ECO castle in a less toy-like style, but I haven’t done anything about it yet. I am keen to get on with this, because it would make it less likely that the thing will just sit in a cupboard forever. Thus far, though, Strike Two.

Mediaeval Fortress pieces

In addition to my Vauban walls and bastions and so on, I have a couple of mediaeval pieces – notably a hefty gatehouse and a castle keep, both from Battleground, which maker I think is owned by Magister Militum. I bought these because it adds some flexibility to my Peninsular War siege department to be able to produce hybrid fortresses including older components.

My visit to Chester a couple of years ago to do a little study of the ECW siege there encouraged me to get some more of the Battleground pieces – these would offer all sorts of extra scope for setting up fortresses in either period. Apart from the usual personal inertia, I have been baulked a little from this idea by the fact that Magister Militum’s approach to providing photos of the ranges on their website is sometimes a little casual for my taste – I am reluctant to buy a fortress gate costing some £20 if I have never seen one, for example.

A couple of months ago there was an eBay listing which offered some pieces from this range for sale, which caught my interest, and recently there has been another, which really looked very attractive indeed – the pieces in the lot, added to my existing Battleground components, would provide the basis for a very handsome ECW walled town.

Classic eBay case-history: 10-day auction with a starting bid of around £50, so for 8 days, in the absence of any bids, I was thinking, “hmmm – good range of pieces, in crisp, nicely painted condition, at well under the list price for new unpainted equivalents – certainly worth a punt”.

Then the bidding started after 8 days, and it advanced rapidly. I went through the next stage of logic, which is something like, “I could buy brand new kit for less than this, but the paintwork is still decent value – I’ll probably have a go for these”.

And the last stage came when the bidding was now so high that it was debatable whether the painting was really good enough to justify the mark-up – the lot eventually sold for comfortably over £100, and I never placed a bid. However, what I did immediately afterwards was to order up a selection of new Battleground pieces from Magister Militum, which I shall paint myself to match my existing stuff. This also has the advantage that the choice of pieces is driven by what I actually want rather than what’s on offer.

So I think this last episode is OK – I am happy to have finally got around to buying some additional suitable fortifications – I should get them in a week or so, though I may not be able to do much with them for a little while. Building-painting is a fast and cheerful activity, though, so it might give me something useful to do in odd moments – and, if I have the Dulux pots out, I might take the opportunity to do something to smarten up the ECO castle while I’m at it – all sorts of possibilities present themselves…

One extra job I will have to carry out is to manufacture some stone-coloured wooden blocks to stand troops on – the walkways and firing platforms on the 15mm mediaeval walls are far too narrow for my 20mm basing system, so I intend to borrow a fudge from my old mate Allan Gallacher, and make some extra blocks to support the rear of the bases of units manning the walls – it looks less daft than you would think, and, since my ECW bases have magnetic sheet on the bottom, I can top the blocks with steel paper to improve stability. That is down the road a bit, but I am at least thinking ahead!