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

Wednesday 28 February 2018

Hooptedoodle #294 - 37 Avenue Foch - Memory by Proxy

This may be difficult to believe, but I do try to stop my blog morphing into a personal diary. I think it is a tricky balance; I frequently see the work of others on social media platforms (especially blogs) and think to myself, "Ouch - I think I would have written that post somewhere private...", and then, of course, I worry a bit about the extent to which I already blur these (rather arbitrary) boundaries.

Whatever, please be assured that, though my writings are always going to be from a personal point of view, I do try to be a bit selective about what I put here. Having said which, I must warn you that this post is about some more family history, so it may be less enthralling to others than I find it myself.

My mother is 92, and is now in a care home, not far from where I live. We had a bit of a saga getting her there, but now it is going well; she is happy, she probably has more friends in the place than she ever had in her life, and she is warm, well-fed and well looked after. Of all the difficult decisions I've had to make over the years, that is maybe the one over which I've had fewest regrets.

I visit her about once a week, at some random time of day, so she can't accuse me of being late (!). She doesn't remember my visits anyway, and I find them rather hard work, though something I am glad to do. I don't suppose we get too many opportunities to care for ageing mothers, so I am getting the hang of things as I go along.

She doesn't walk now, and she cannot see. In both these respects, I am convinced it is mostly because she has decided that this is so. Certainly she had a recent eye-test that confirmed she has fair residual vision (she had a cataract op in the last 2 years) and that the prescription of her spectacles is correct. Problem is that she refuses to understand when to use her glasses, and doesn't expect to be able to see anything when she does. As the manager of the home put it, the problem seems to be one of process rather than a medical condition. No point disputing the matter - if she has decided she cannot see then she cannot see. I'm slowly getting used to this kind of thing.

She is usually in her bed when I visit. Not because she is confined to her bed, but she likes to listen to her radio, and that's a comfortable place to rest. At night she sleeps only a little (probably because she snoozes a lot during the day, though she denies this), and she says she is fascinated by the flow of her memories - she says it's like a cinema show. Certainly in recent weeks she has been rabbiting on about all sorts - mostly recollections of her childhood, in immense detail (bear in mind that she has no idea what happened yesterday, so the older stuff can run undisturbed).

Much of it I have heard before - some of it far too many times for comfort - but some of it is new. Because her parents separated when she was 10, I was brought up to accept some major distortions in the Official Family History. Many of the relationships, places and dates didn't line up very well. As a child you don't question these things. In recent years I've managed to get enough information to correct some of these old myths, so it has been something of an enlightenment.

It's OK - I'm not going to try to give a full run-down of the family history, but my mother has always been obsessed by the years she spent in Paris as a girl. They have had a great, looming influence over her entire life - more than would seem to make sense, proportionally - and I now realise that, since her parents separated in Paris, and her mother brought the children back to England in 1935, her entire recollection of a full family life is restricted to those few years. Her father's memory is certainly enhanced by the fact that she knew so little of him.

Definitely not Paris - this is Liverpool Pier Head, circa 1920 - the Liver Building is
the leftmost of the three big waterfront buildings
He worked, as a very young man, for Lever Brothers - for Billy Lever - the 2nd Viscount Leverhulme - of the family which originally made its fortune out of Sunlight Soap and which became Unilever. Grandfather worked in an office in the Liver Building, at Liverpool Pier Head. My mother was born in Liverpool in 1925, and her birth certificate gives her father's occupation as soap manufacturer's clerk. The company was very successfully importing palm oil and other products from Africa - mostly the Belgian Congo (as it was), and eventually grandfather was offered a job in Paris, working with a European subsidiary of Unilever. He was already married, with a family of three daughters, and in 1930 his wife and family joined him in Paris. My mother at this stage was 5, one year into recovery from a polio episode which has affected her entire life.

My grandparents, alas, did not get on. My grandmother did not like Paris, and does not seem to have cared much for my grandfather either - not least because he seems to have had a succession of lady friends (all of whom, it has to be said, appear to have been more interesting than his wife). By 1935 she had had enough, she brought the girls back to Liverpool. My mother's all-pervading 5-year upbringing in Paris ends there. She did not see her father again until he turned up at her wedding in 1945, and she did not see him after that until 1959, when she and my dad (incredibly, unbelievably) travelled to Paris from Liverpool on a 150cc Lambretta scooter, for a week's holiday. This visit was all a little awkward, since they were to stay with Grandpère, with his second wife and family, at his posh flat in Neuilly (Boulevard Bineau); my grandmother, who was child-minding me and my sister during their holiday, did not know this, and would certainly have been very upset if she had known.

And so the family story chugs on - I'll spare you any more. It's just another family story. The bit which has fascinated me recently was getting more light on my mother's Paris years - a lot of this was new to me.

Place de la Liberté, La Garenne-Colombes - rather before my mother's day
They lived in an apartment in the Avenue Foch, in La Garenne-Colombes. Because of the polio, my mum had treatments which meant that she was often unable to attend school, so she spent many of her most formative days surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of a strange city. She has told me of the baker's shop opposite - if she hung around there they would give her macaroons or galettes; she loved the smells in the woodworking shop next door, where they made big items of furniture. She had a friend who lived in a house on a corner opposite - a girl of about her age, and there was a big dog and a lovely garden to play in, but the girl seemed to be looked after by nuns, and one day she disappeared without explanation, though the nuns and the dog were still there. At the end of that section of the Avenue Foch is the Place de la Liberté, where there was a big library, a Catholic church and, in the Summer, a fairground. My mum and her sisters used to like to sit out on the little balcony of their flat and listen to the music and the sounds from the fairground.

The church was of interest to the children since there were two statuettes in the entrance - Jeanne d'Arc and the Virgin Mary - my mum preferred Jeanne - she seemed less austere, and she and her elder sister used to spend time relighting all the candles placed by these statues, until the priests chased them. Mum thinks that a whole lot of prayers must have had confusing outcomes as a result of the candles being messed about.

I've never been there, but a few years ago, when she was still able to understand these things, I used Google Maps to download some street views of Avenue Foch, and the first view was the door of No.37 - apparently unchanged since the 1930s. She was thrilled to bits, and we had a look around the area, courtesy of Google. It is clear that a lot of the area has been renewed, as you would expect, and there seems to be a market building where the fairground used to be. The church is still there.

37 Avenue Foch - the scooter is not a Lambretta!
They lived in the second-top flat - a lot of stairs for a little girl with polio. Note the
little balconies, for listening to the sounds of the fairground
Most of the area is rebuilt - the building on the corner, far right of this picture, is
probably where the little girl with the dog lived
The Catholic church is still there, though they were constructing an underground
carpark when the Googlewagen passed
In 1959, on the Lambretta trip, my parents visited Avenue Foch, and went in. The concierge and her husband were still living there, in the ground floor flat, and were astonished that my mother had grown so strong and vigorous, since she had been a very sickly child. The concierge's husband still had to tend to the heating boilers for the building, though they were fired by gas instead of coal. The only other neighbour who remained from 1935 was an elderly lady on the top floor. My mother remembered that she and her husband had a business which made jewellery boxes and cutlery cases - Mum was fascinated by them when she was little. The business was no more. It had ended when the old lady's husband was apprehended in 1941 and sent to Drancy, whence he went on to one of the extermination camps in Poland.

Tuesday 27 February 2018

ECW - Marston Moor? - Maybe's Aye, Maybe's No....

Game is scheduled for Saturday, but current weather situation here on the East Coast of Scotland is not promising. I live next to the sea, and we hardly ever get snow (though we have a little today), but my gaming companions have to travel from higher, more northerly lands and that may be a problem.

Tuesday and counting - only a little snow here, but we rarely get any at all
Last credible local forecast I saw said that it will be pretty terrible here Wednesday and Thursday, but might well be OK Friday and Saturday. Thus we live in hope (which, as discussed previously, is a small village not far from despair).

I've set up the battlefield - making everything fit on the table is a starter challenge. If I have to tidy the thing away again without a game that's all right - we can rearrange when the Beast from the East (as the literati in the popular press call the present storm front) has gone. I have a photo of how the field looks now, so it will be an easy matter to set it up another time.

From the South West - behind the Allied left flank
...and from the South East. Table is 17 hexes x 9 - that's 10'4" x 5'
Very plain battlefield - the ridge is on the Parliament side, there are a couple of enclosures on the north side of the road, the infamous ditch/hedge feature is fairly trivial, and only a couple of portions of it appear. The roads themselves have no function at all, other than to give the battlefield some recognisable shape - no movement bonus, no cover. The little wheat fields up next to the village of Long Marston are a bit tricky - broken ground - troops arriving on one of these will have to stop until next turn; also, any horse occupying or attacking such a field does not get to count any "Galloper" bonus.

That's it really - I'll set up some soldiers later on - I was going to leave it until we had a better idea of the weather, but I decided I would rather enjoy setting the troops out and, if necessary, putting them away as well. I may publish some pictures of the armies in position - on the other hand, it only makes it more awkward if we have to cancel; I went through a bit of that last year with my over-publicised Siege of Newcastle...

Maybe's aye, maybe's no. We'll see.

***** Late Edit *****

All right, all right. I set the armies up as well. Note the little packets of commanded shot attached to the horse, and deployed in the hedge.

Saturday 24 February 2018

Hooptedoodle #293 - Rage over a Lost Pike

Bad title - couldn't think of anything decent, offhand. In fact it was hardly an episode worthy of rage, a few minutes anxiety, at most; also, the pike was not lost, it was simply - erm - in the wrong place, so "found" would have been closer.

Marston Moor game coming up next weekend. I've had a lot of very enjoyable sorting out to do - some figure painting (to make/balance up the numbers), some scenario tweaking for the rules, and - over the last few days - an extended wrangle to get a "best fit" of my available toy units for the regiments that were really present. Thus (for example), since I have a fair collection for the First ECW in Lancashire and Cheshire, the regiments of Assheton and Rigby and Tyldesley can simply play as themselves, and I have a fair representation of the Covenanters of 1644, so that also drops into place nicely, but the Eastern Association (for example) is outside my normal area of activity, so some role-playing will be needed. Robert Ellice's Welsh Royalists will be pressed into service as someone else, and much more of the same, so there will be plenty of scope for identifying wrong flags when the photos appear!

This "best fit" exercise involved more note-scribbling and fiddling about than I expected, so I decided to BlueTak some simple little labels onto the unit bases, to keep us right on the day and to preserve my studies so far. Thus I spent an excellent evening messing around on the dining table, cutting out laminated labels, attempting to get BlueTak to stick to something other than my fingertips, and so on. This required a lot of coffee and a few hours of Debussy.

Because Marston Moor will be the biggest pike and shot game I've ever attempted, I had to label up almost my entire collection of ECW figures, and then tidy everything away in the A4 box-files, ready for next week. Anyone with experience of Medieval and Renaissance wargaming will be aware of the scope for accidents and collateral damage when working with miniature pike-blocks.

I accept it as a necessary precaution to have a tube of superglue handy on the battlefield. My pikes are deliberately made of florist's wire, so they will bend before they damage the figures, and they will not injure any of the players (depending, I suppose, on how hard they are thrown), but they have certainly been known to detach themselves in the heat of battle. Hence the glue and the running repairs. If you leave it until later, the pike will be lost, or you won't get around to it, or whatever.

Well, I completed my labelling exercise carefully, managed to get everything tidied away, got the box-files back on their shelves without dropping the whole lot at once (one of the little-discussed advantages of box-files) and then, when I was sorting out the paperwork, I found a stray pike on the table.

Uh-oh! [arrows supplied by editorial staff so you can see the problem]

I've got pretty good at this stuff now - it took me only about 20 minutes to schlepp the boxes back through into the dining room (without dropping them), check each box of soldiers for missing pikes (all OK, in fact) and store them away again (without dropping them). Nothing missing, though of course there's that little thrill of tension right until the last box. The rogue pike must be from the spares department - looking at the type of wire, I guess it is from either the Mike & Whiskers collection I got from eBay or else some leftovers I have from a shipment of old figures I bought from Harry Pearson. Whatever it is, the important point is that it is not from my proposed field armies, so that is all right.

Pink = ECW
That's 16 of these beggars to check through
It also provides a timely reminder that PIKES ARE DANGEROUS, that some damage to the toys is inevitable when playing this period and - importantly - any damage should be recoverable and repairable with minimum effort. The florists' wire is invaluable, though I still wish they made it in brown. I have a factory process for painting green pikes brown - not a problem, but fiddly.

Friday 23 February 2018

ECW - General Wm Baillie - Ox-Droppings Dept.

This follows on smartish from my previous post, since I was keen to get Baillie painted up ready for Marston Moor (next weekend). Still vaguely apprehensive about the political correctness thing, I decided not to use the camped-up conversion with the clown boots etc (not sure why, something to do with a feeling that using a contrived figure might be potentially more offensive), and instead used an Irregular Miniatures general officer (a bit small by normal 20mm standards) and mounted him on a 20mm scale SHQ horse.

Good - pleased with the result. A respectful depiction of a small man, at which no-one could possibly take offence.

Looking a little like a Hobbit-General, Wee Willie Baillie poses next to a nifty
pond I got for a knock-down price at the York Wargame Show.
Then I received an email from Prof De Vries. He asked me where I got the idea that the little man on the right-hand end of Van der Helst's painting (as shown in my previous post) was William Baillie. I replied that there are at least three blogs/websites that use it as a portrait for Baillie. One in particular goes into some interesting detail on how the site owner actually was William Baillie in a former life, which explains why he recognised himself in the Van der Helst painting, why he has always been able to speak Dutch, why he recalls a lot of what happened to Baillie during his lifetime and so on. It also explains why he has a special bond with a close friend of his, who looks very like the figure of (Baillie's friend and colleague) James Lumsden (next to Baillie in the big painting) and who may have been Lumsden in a previous life. If you are getting a little giddy at this point, and if you would like to see how General Baillie's later alter ego improvised his own ECW costume from motor cycle clothing, I recommend you have a quick look here.

Since I have experienced enough drive-by flamings to learn not to criticise anyone else's internet presence, I offer no judgement of these claims. The Professor, though, was less tactful. He reckons that the three websites which offer the Puss in Boots picture as a likeness of William Baillie have misled each other - what De Vries describes as the classic internet closed-circle of mutual confirmation. He also reckons that a person who spoke Dutch and had even a slight familiarity with Google would not have taken very long to learn the truth of the De Schuttersmajltid painting. The date, the event, and - especially - the people in the picture are known. 

The bad news? Too late; wrong people. Is that a klaxon I hear...?

In fact, the event depicted was a lunch in celebration of the Peace of Münster, 18 June 1648, held in the headquarters of the Amsterdam Crossbowmen's Guild (St George's Guard). 

The people portrayed are actually recorded as being: (right, with silver horn) captain Cornelis Jansz. Witsen, (shakes hand of previous) lieutenant Johan Oetgens van Waveren, (seated behind the drum, with flag) reserve officer candidate Jacob Banning, sergeants Dirck Claesz. Thoveling and Thomas Hartog. Additionally: Pieter van Hoorn, Willem Pietersz. van der Voort, Adriaen Dirck Sparwer, Hendrick Calaber, Govert van der Mij, Johannes Calaber, Benedictus Schaesk, Jam Maes, Jacob van Diemen, Jan van Ommeren, Isaac Ooyens, Gerrit Pietersz. van Anstenraadt, Herman Teunisz. de Kluyter, Andries van Anstenraadt, Christoffel Poock, Hendrick Dommer Wz., Paulus Hennekijn, Lambregt van den Bos and Willem the drummer.

Not a bloody Scotsman in sight.

Sorry about all that. I am left with the mystery of where Nigel Tranter got his information about Baillie. Frankly, I'm not bothered - Baillie, it is well known, was a small man with a squeaky voice - here's a squeaky model of him - do you have a problem with this?


Tuesday 20 February 2018

ECW - Bill Baillie, won't you please come home?

De Schuttersmajltid (Van der Helst)
A few years ago I bought a big load of pre-owned ECW figures via eBay. They came from a Belfast charity shop, and had formed part of a vast collection included in the estate of a gentleman who had recently passed away.

The good news was that these figures were very cheap, were of the correct scale (mostly SHQ and Tumbling Dice) and - unbelievably - were very obviously intended and organised to fight the campaigns of Montrose, which was exactly why I had wanted them. The bad news was that, though they were simply but adequately painted, they were finished in a strange mixture of what appeared to be cat hairs and boat varnish. It took a lot of work to get them into any kind of shape. My long sessions attempting to clean up and rebase these figures seem to have deranged me a little, and I recall that I used to have long, rambling conversations with the previous owners, whom I named Mike and Whiskers. Most of the conversations were connected with varnishing figures with a bucket and a broom, from the far side of the yard, and involved a fair amount of profanity.

Anyway, I got through all that, I came out with a load of useable Scottish and Irish units for my ECW armies, and I still have a big box of spare figures left over - the best of them are fairly good, in fact, but there are a lot of marching figures which don't really suit my ECW set up.

Among the spares I found a strange little figure, mounted on a full-sized horse. When I stripped him, it was obviously a conversion - someone had manufactured a personality figure of some nature, by using an underscale officer casting (late 17th Century, I guess) and soldering on big gloves and boots and giving him a big hat. I did nothing further with it, but it has always seemed to me that, given the very specific Montrose nature of Mike and Whiskers' collection, someone had obviously gone to some trouble to produce a very small general.

It couldn't be General William Baillie, could it?

For a start, I have no evidence that Baillie was small other than the fact that he appears to be so in his portrait at one end of Van der Helst's De Schuttersmajltid (the shooters' lunch), which shows a load of celebrities from Gustavus Adolphus' army in the Thirty Years War - and there are a lot of Scots present - James Lumsden and Alexander Leslie and - far right, with the orange sash - William Baillie, who I think was colonel of a Dutch regiment at this time.

The other evidence is that Nigel Tranter states (in whichever of the Montrose novels) that he was of very small build, with a high-pitched voice like a boy's. Did Tranter have something more to go on? Had he just seen the same Dutch painting I've seen?

I'm on shaky ground here - apart from my lack of real proof, I suspect I am potentially going to fall foul of some unwritten (or, even worse, written) rules of Political Correctness - an area in which I have an unfailing ability to put my big foot in it. Is it OK to feature some personal characteristic or disability of General Baillie in a model to appear in a game? Just a minute - it isn't me that is claiming he was in any way impeded by his lack of stature, is it? - that was implied by the PC lot. He had a long and successful military career, though he was not always a lucky general. He was one of Lord Leven's main men in the Covenanter army of 1643-44, and played a major part in steadying the Allied foot at Marston Moor. That was as good as it got. Subsequently he was sent back to Scotland to deal with Montrose, and his army was definitely of second string material. He managed his campaign with some skill, but was heavily defeated at Kilsyth.

Later he commanded part of the Duke of Hamilton's "Engager" army, now fighting against his former Parliamentary allies, and he was obliged to surrender the infantry of the army at Winwick Pass, after the Battle of Preston in 1648. The surrender was made to Cromwell himself, at Warrington.

Legend has it that Baillie was pleading with his soldiers to shoot him after Winwick Pass, to spare his disgrace.

Enough of this; this has been merely a brief headscratching moment, wondering whether I should bother to depict Baillie on my Marston Moor battlefield, and whether it would be correct (and/or acceptable) to make him a small man. My excuses are:

* I suspect Baillie was, in fact, a small man - if I field a small miniature, I am not mocking or criticising his memory [I shall avoid impersonating his voice, though].
* I don't pretend that Prince Rupert didn't have soppy long hair, do I? And a dog, come to that.
* Listen - if Nigel Tranter says Baillie was small, that's good enough for most people.
* I already have a suitable figure, so if necessary I could sort of blame Mike and Whiskers.

Does anybody have any further clues about our William B? Any of his relatives prepared to sue me if I go ahead?

Thursday 15 February 2018

Hooptedoodle #292 - Name, Rank and Cereal Number

The Final Instalment
A while ago, while I was looking out for some sort of acceptable breakfast food which would offer a more healthy alternative to my favourite toast and jam, I tried a few brands and varieties of "instant" porridge. I took a liking to some of the products of Dorset Cereals, especially their Gingerbread mixture, which is pretty good for a zero-effort production straight out of the shower.


* Slit the packet open
* Empty into a deep porridge bowl
* Add one cup-full of semi-skimmed milk (little green plastic cup in the cupboard, filled 1cm from the rim)
* Microwave on full power for 3 minutes
* Allow to stand for 1 minute, stir well
* Leave to cool for a few minutes (while making coffee)
* Bingo - gingerbread flavour porridge

Now all right, all right - I know this isn't proper porridge. Proper porridge is made with rolled oats and water and a little salt, and has to be eaten on a mountain top in a blizzard, while you are wearing a kilt and sandals - maybe a hair shirt would be OK. Any milk or sweetener (especially golden syrup) is a dreadful offence, and not acceptable at all. Even thinking about it is shameful.

Well, to coin a phrase, shove it. The microwave packet stuff is pretty good, especially on a cold morning, it's quick to make, and it is definitely better for you than toast and jam (real butter, Bonne Maman strawberry preserve, 3 slices, mmm, stop it...).

Back to the original tale. The Contesse found it was hard to purchase locally, but found a source online. Nice big packs too - one big box contained 5 smaller boxes, each of which contained 10 of these little sachets. That's 50 days' porridge, chaps - almost certainly sufficient for a lot longer than 50 days, since the odd portion of toast and jam would probably sneak in from time to time, not to mention occasional pains au chocolat etc.

If you are looking for humour in this story, then the only funny bit is coming up, so be careful not to miss it. The Contesse, who is good at these things, spotted that our big box of Gingerbread Porridge (hereinafter GP, for brevity) had a use-by date only 8 days later than the date of receipt - this implied some very intensive porridge consumption for a while, so she emailed and protested about the short date. The suppliers were as good as gold - they apologised at length and unreservedly, and promised to ship us a replacement box immediately, which they did.

Only snag was that it was from the same batch as our original box, and thus had the same use-by date. Thus we now had 100 sachets of GP, all of which in theory had to be eaten within a very short time. I'm not sure what would have happened if we'd complained again, but we didn't.

At this point commonsense bubbled to the top of the bowl. A sealed sachet of instant porridge contains almost nothing which is going to deteriorate. Dried oats, some flavouring and sweetener - maybe some actual dried gingerbread from Grannie Dorset's kitchen? In theory, you should be able to eat this stuff long after the official expiry date - what could happen to it? What is it going to turn into, in the absence of moisture and light? Bear in mind that the warring Highlanders, in their day, could subsist indefinitely with just a small bag of oatmeal and a little spring water. I don't know what they plugged the microwave into, but that is impressive.

So that's all fine. I slowed right down on the manic porridge-eating schedule, and in fact it's taken me a couple of years to get through it all.

Today I am left with the last packet - so I hung it on the fridge to register my respect for the occasion. I shall now eat it. It's OK. I am not exactly excited by the stuff, but it has some advantages (as discussed) and I can savour the fact that I got it for half price.

Half-price porridge is a good deal, even if it's not proper porridge.

Wednesday 14 February 2018

1809 Spaniards - Light Infantry Sample Figures

A couple more pilot figures painted - synchronised musket-loading on the bottletops!

Fellow on the left is from the Cazadores de Barbastro, on the right is a member of the Voluntarios de Gerona. These are 1/72 white metal Falcata castings, and I have to say that I have some very sore fingers from trying to clean up a couple of battalions of these. Considering the figures were only marketed for 4 or 5 years, the moulds were pretty broken up by the end of that period, and the casting was definitely a bit variable - lots of grinding and trimming needed, a few replacement scabbards, even a replacement head in one instance, and a number of spindly bayonets built up with layers of superglue. Hmmm.

Anyway, they should look OK when they are all painted and based. My usual arrangement for Spanish, British and Portuguese light infantry units - each battalion will have 2 close-order bases of 6 figures each, including the command, and 2 open order bases of 3 figures in skirmishing poses, which is where the loaders and firers get a gig.

These guys are now officially in the painting queue!

Sunday 11 February 2018

Painting Royalists, a Minor-League Give-away and the Fog of War

Topic 1 - Painting Royalists

Reinforcements on the way
In two weeks the scheduled Marston Moor game should take place here, so I've been working away at some painting to boost the armies a little. The problem with Marston Moor, of course, is the number of troops - no, I don't have enough, but I worked out that I should be able to lay out a game at about ⅔ of the original size - the horse will be a little light, but that will be the same for both sides.

My original head-counting exercise was flawed - amusingly so, in hindsight. I very carefully put everything into spreadsheets, to work out how my toy regiments should best be given historical roles to play. I have a number of units which were deliberately painted to be capable of turning out for either side, and when I failed for the third time to balance the numbers of required figures I realised that I had, rather brilliantly, added these ambidextrous units to the OOB for both sides. [I used to work for an insurance company which, famously and allegedly, once did its solvency returns using this same accounting basis, so maybe there's an unconscious hangover there.]

Whatever, I decided that it would be better to paint up 3 extra units of Royalist foot, rather than start all over again with the calculations. I have enough spare figures, and I also had the remains of a pre-painted collection I bought a while ago from something of a wargaming celeb (by my standards, anyway) - they would require some repainting, and I'd need to add some 20-odd extra figures to make up the roll-call, but that would be a pleasing way to kill a number of birds with one shot.

These chaps are just about ready now - as ever, they are Old School in one of its more primitive forms, but they are fine. I still have a few officers to finish off, but they should be ready sometime today. One of the problems with using old 20mm figures is the lack of choice when looking for command figures and other odd-bods. I mostly use Les Higgins castings for the ECW - these, of course, are still available from Old John, who has added a good number of conversions and extra poses to the original range now. Higgins' 20mm ECW and Marlburian figures are small - noticeably smaller than their 25mm products, and too small to fit comfortably with modern plastics. I can mix in Hinton Hunt, and also (with careful selection) more modern products from SHQ. For the cavalry, I also use Tumbling Dice, though I mount them on SHQ horses to keep the scale creep to a minimum.

So the new/old units of foot are now just awaiting the last few officers. The drummers will be Higgins - they are almost ready - and the two colonels still to be painted are from SHQ - strictly they are a tad hefty, but they are OK. I was very pleased to be able to draft in an Art Miniaturen ensign - these are normally too big, being sort of plastic-sized 1/72, but in a packet which I've had lying about for 5 years or so I found a 30YW standard bearer who is a bit smaller than usual, and offers a decent match with the Higginses. He's a little stout for a fighting man, but presumably he paid for his own rations, and he has very thick hide underwear under his finery.

I still have to polish up the scenario notes, with OOBs and rule-tweaks for the day, but it's going to be fine. Marston Moor. Yes.

Topic 2 - A Trifling Giveaway
This is the dealer's own image

This may be of no interest at all, in which case no harm done. I recently ordered up a couple of 3-D printed medieval towers from a firm which sells via eBay. Part of this was a consequence of my general interest in the whole subject of 3-D printing - I thought I'd have a look at a sample before rushing to order up their very impressive Waterloo-type farmhouse. I ordered the towers in 15mm scale (since I use one-size-down buildings with my 20mm figures). I've now built one, and it's very nicely made. I haven't painted it up yet - it will not fit into a walled town or anything, so it's more a sort of pele tower, such as we get up here in the Border country. In truth it is rather more Warhammer than I thought - the point is I really don't need two. If anyone would like the second one, as a gift, please just send me a comment or an email explaining how desperately you want it, and how you will use it. I'm looking for some entertainment here, so "You owe me a tower, you bastard" will not score highly, even if true. As ever, the selection criteria will be completely subjective and unfair. Only restriction is that you must either be a known follower of this blog or else someone who corresponds with me by email.

You will have to glue together the [small number of] components and paint the thing. It stands some 138mm high, and the door is about 25mm high, so I reckon that, though it is officially 15mm scale, it would also work as a nice bijoux pele tower in 20mm scale or HO.

Check out these people's products on eBay, by the way - I have no stake in this, but it's good to see 3-D printed products getting better and cheaper and more widely available. The farmhouse is particularly good...

Topic 3 - Fog of War (painting with dodgy eyesight...)

A friend tipped me off that I had been mentioned in someone else's blog. This was a couple of months ago, in a blog which I used to read fairly regularly when I had more time and possibly more patience.

I was very surprised that I was taken to task for being rude about 5mm and 6mm figures, and for implying that they were difficult or impossible to paint. The gist of the message was that, even in jest, this is an irritant, does the small scales no favours, and that anyone can easily paint 6mm castings, regardless of the state of their eyesight.

It is possible that the bloggist should cut down on his coffee intake, because I meant to be neither critical nor disparaging about the little figures - I am really quite a fan, and the post to which he took exception was merely an affectionate look at the old 5mm Minifigs blocks (which were a bit unsatisfactory, in fact) and an old chap I once knew who used to use them for wargaming. Though I had several attempts, I could find nothing in my text nor the comments which might reasonably give offence. Still, if you give offence you have done it wrong, whether or not you meant to, so I can only repeat my eyebrows-raised disclaimer and apology. No harm meant.

On the other hand, one element of the response did manage to ruffle my own feathers just a little, so let's return the favour here. Anyone can paint these figures? Well I couldn't, old bean - no chance.

I am still doing a fair amount of painting, but it is getting slower and is harder work. Last year it was confirmed that I have the beginnings of cataracts in both eyes - nothing dramatic, no hard feelings - this stuff comes with the turning of the seasons. I can now paint only with very bright light, and a x2 jeweller's loop device (which reminds me - must get the prescription checked again), and I'm having difficulties with certain colours. I have given up on black undercoat - if I try to apply dark blue or brown over black I can't even see if it's going on - hopeless. I've changed to mid-grey undercoat, which is far better. If I have black or dark brown paint in my palette, I need a bright light, carefully angled, to be able even to see when my brush makes contact with the pool of paint. If I have to paint a belt behind a sword (for example) I have problems getting the 3D to line up properly - my focus is distracted by the nearer object.

None of this is serious or especially worrying - I can still drive without problems, my life is unaffected by any concerns about my sight, but painting soldiers is harder and slower than it was, and I am aware that figures I painted 30 years ago - even in the days of Humbrol enamels - are often far crisper than I could manage now. How quickly cataracts progress is variable - and they can be fixed, of course, though they will have to get worse before they are made better, I guess. In the meantime, I am enjoying my painting, I subcontract some big jobs - it all works out.

I mention this not because I am feeling sorry for myself - heaven forbid - but because I really do not appreciate being told what I should be able to paint.

Monday 5 February 2018

Splish Splosh - Marston Moor visit

Geese in York - webbed feet were a great idea
At the weekend I attended York Wargames Society's Vapnartak show at York racecourse - big show, lots of stuff to look at, one or two old friends to say hello to.

To round out my weekend, I took the opportunity on Saturday to visit the Marston Moor battlefield. I've never been there, and I felt it would be useful in preparing for a planned wargame later this month.

It was a very wet day, I have to say. Before I went, I was trying to keep my packing as light as possible, and after some agonising I decided not to take my proper hill-walking boots on my trip. Saturday was so wet and muddy that I couldn't really get off the road (which runs across the battlefield, just as it did in 1644, between the two armies), but the hiking boots wouldn't have helped - I'd have needed waders or something to make much progress off-road.

I took the public bus from York (route 412, destination Wetherby) to Long Marston, and walked to Tockwith, at the far side of the battlefield. I had a decent lunch in the Spotted Ox, and got the bus back to York.

No visitors on the battlefield at all - just a few passing cars to splash the puddles over me. The modern farmland is obviously very different from the rough moorland on which they fought the battle, but one important thing I learned from my visit is that the ground where the Parliament side set up is a definite ridge - not steep, but quite marked; from the road you can only see up to the crest, and there is dead ground beyond (which is why Rupert maybe underestimated Leven's numbers on the day). On the other side of the road, where Rupert and Newcastle formed their lines, it is pretty much as flat as a billiard table. You may be able to see towards York from up on the ridge, but from where I was you can see very little.

Get off the bus at the Sun Inn in Long Marston

Sounds as though this might be one of the older buildings in Long Marston, but I
understand there is hardly anything here which dates back to 1644

Looking south towards the Parliamentary lines - this would be the join between
Fairfax's horse on the right flank and the Scottish foot in the middle - definitely rising
ground. The hedges are all post-Enclosure Act, so would not have been present on the day

Looking along the road between the two armies, heading west. You can just see
the battlefield monument peeking over the hedge on the right

Moor Lane - or Bloody Lane, as it was famed. Today it's just Muddy Lane, and I
chickened out of going up there. I would never have made a soldier - I only just make it as a
tourist on my braver days

The monument, on the corner of the road and Moor Lane - we
are looking North here

The commemorative plaques have strange political overtones - does the wording
here strike you as oddly specific? - does this line up nicely with Cromwell's own
dismissal of the part anyone else played in "his" victory? Are his press agents still working?

Looking north-west across Rupert's position - pretty flat, I reckon

More politics - walk around the monument and the locals have put in a special mention of
Black Tom Fairfax

Ah yes - the Cromwell Association - who'd have expected that?

The Official Story - no mention of the Earl of Leven here, then, and not much about the
Earl of Manchester

Opposite the monument, there's a footpath up onto the Allies' position - some
other day, maybe - but I got the idea

Not a big battlefield - the fighting took place between Long Marston and Tockwith, and
they are about 2.5 miles apart.

More violence - monument in Tockwith to a bomber crew who crashed at the end of WW2

Tockwith village - Bilton church is off to the left somewhere here - the Bilton Bream was
an area of rough ground on the Allied left flank that was levelled by Cromwell's
engineers before the battle - one of the things they sorted out was a man-made
rabbit warren - I wouldn't mind seeing a picture of what that looked like!

Time for lunch - homemade fish pie and veg and a pint of Tetley's, then the bus back
to York to dry out