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

Tuesday 19 June 2018

Les Higgins Miniatures Catalogue - 1971

Struggling a bit this last couple of weeks to get any time at all, so this post is a bit of a cop-out. I obtained a decent first edition copy of the Les Higgins catalogue from 1971, so thought it might be of interest.

I find it useful because it clarifies the rather complicated range of poses which Higgins produced (some of which disappeared from the range after Les died - some of them probably should never have existed - British light infantry "battalion company" without wings, for example - Les was not an expert in the military aspects). It also gives a reminder that 1971 was a very long time ago.

Anyway, if this is the kind of stuff you like, you may like this.

Monday 11 June 2018

Useful Odds & Ends

Just what you need to keep your games tidy and the kit under control
I have recently bought some purpose-built gaming paraphernalia - a useful dice-tray, and a playing card holder, which are both smarter and more practical than the usual superannuated ashtrays etc that get called into use here at Chateau Foy.

These are nice components - they have a good weight to them - they are foamex, the dice trays are available in a wide range of styles, are lined with felt and have non-slip feet. The composite is available in a number of colours, including all sorts of stone shades. It is also surprisingly quiet in use - your dice will not make much of a rattle!

They are available on eBay - I have no interest in this, by the way, other than the fact that I was pleased with the pieces I bought, which are satisfyingly solid and stable in use, and I found the seller to be a pleasant, helpful chap. Well worth checking out, I think.

The website isn't ready yet, but you'll find a lot of information if you look up
playtrayuk on Facebook

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

I got a couple of emails asking for more info about these; I emphasise that I am not connected with the business at all - I'm just a customer - the items are mostly intended for boardgamers, but the seller has a representative selection of his range on eBay here if you wish to have a look.


Friday 8 June 2018

Studying History in the Car

Recently I've been thoroughly absorbed by some freebie history podcasts I downloaded from the Internet. Not only do they make car journeys pass more quickly, but sometimes I'm fretting to get back on my way, to find out what happened next!

I'm really only a dabbler in this area, but am very impressed by what is available and by the potential of the medium.

Some years ago I became very enthusiastic about The Napoleon Podcast, a series produced by an Australian, Cameron Reilly, which generated a lengthy series of shows featuring Reilly as host and continuity man (and frequent provocateur), and J David Markham - American author of numerous works on Napoleon, of which Napoleon for Dummies must be one of his biggest sellers. The series was ambitious, in an amiably homespun sort of way, and when the personalities of the two presenters (and their unrelenting devotion to the Emperor) began to grate on the nerves it was rescued by a number of excellent guest speakers. That series is still worth a listen, I think - especially the sections on the Russian army and its campaigns.

Apart from the occasional episode of BBC Radio's In Our Time show, I haven't been paying a lot of attention subsequently; I've checked out a number of audiobooks, but these things are very much dependant on how well they are read, which - in turn - is very much a matter of personal taste. I was delighted that someone had taken on the task of recording Oman's Peninsular War epic series on mp3, for example, but my excitement ended abruptly when I heard the results. I was also keen to get the very good audiobook version of CV Wedgwood's book on the Thirty Years War, but it seems this is tricky if you don't want an Audible account. At the time, I thought that Audible seemed like an updated version of the old monthly book-clubs scam, but I am slowly starting to consider this more seriously. I may be a potential subscriber. [Having typed this here, I suspect I will now see adverts for little else on my email page, my eBay screens, Facebook, in my shaving mirror, etc...]

The podcasts which have been keeping me entertained recently are both American:

Dan Carlin
World War 1 - excellently done, but very heavy going
(1) Dan Carlin's Blueprint for Armageddon series - which comprises six enormously long shows, available from Carlin's Hardcore History website. Carlin, I think, is a bit like Marmite - I have really become quite a big fan, but a lot of people do not appreciate his style, nor his political views. The series in question is available free from his site, and I downloaded these shows as a taster, before exploring some of the items which require a (small) investment. Carlin's viewpoint in this particular miniseries is to examine WW1 as it affected the participants. He does it well, and impartially, though the whole thing is presented with attention to the meat-grinder aspects of the experience which gets close to obsession at times. No matter - the point is well made, if maybe a few times too many. Carlin appears to have a view with which I can empathise - namely, that there are no absolute winners in war; as a rule, wars are started for political or economic reasons by national leaders or rulers, but the cost in suffering and ruin is borne by the common people, mobilised and conscripted in support of some national patriotic jamboree. Anyway, it's sobering stuff, but I learned a great deal, and he is a stunning presenter.

Mike Duncan
Well worth a browse
(2) Mike Duncan's Revolutions Podcast, which is all available free of charge, though you are sort of expected to make a donation if you appreciate the shows. This is a weekly series - I downloaded the ECW set, and thought they were very good. They give an excellent overall view of a complex subject, and they do it well, though they focus on the political rather than the military detail. I was a little disappointed that Duncan chose to spend very little time on the many sieges which were central to the wars, though he probably decided they were difficult things to present in an interesting way. The shows are well written, and well presented, though for my taste the insistence on introducing a matey joviality at times does not work well. Maybe this is compulsory for the Informal Internet, but, no matter how charismatic the presenter, inclusion of phrases like "awesome" and "kicking the crap out of the King's army" in a narration, even of popular history, adds little for me. Overall, though, I liked the slick way the shows were written and edited. I'm going to have a look at the wealth of other material on offer on the site. Mr Duncan is to be complimented on his efforts.

For zero cost, these podcasts offer a lot of entertainment and, in the series I have been following, a great deal of insight. I have enjoyed my motor trips much more of late, no doubt. Recommended - and I shall look further to see what else is out there.

Monday 4 June 2018

Hooptedoodle #305 - Stone Cold Dead in de Marketplace

I get so used to the convenience of online shopping that it really stings when it goes wrong. Nothing major - no big deal - just a routine shopping story, straight from the pages of Bicycle News [private joke]. The real problem is that we take things for granted - no contingency margins at all - so any pain is mostly self-inflicted.

This week I needed to get some musical kit in a hurry - nothing particularly interesting - just a long-overdue replacement for a carrying case. Had a look around, and eventually bought something on Amazon. I could have looked further, but our experience with Amazon is so overwhelmingly positive in recent years, and they always look after any (rare) mishaps professionally and quickly, so their name has become a bit of a safeguard.

£58, with free delivery. Fine. Easy. In fact the item was supplied by one of Amazon's Marketplace sellers, a big music shop in Yorkshire which also deals with real customers in a real bricks-&-mortar shop. All good. The chances of a staff member in an actual music shop knowing what they are doing must be at least as good as what might be expected in the dungeons of a Corporate Fulfilment Centre.

My parcel was much, much bigger than this...
On Saturday, even quicker than expected, a DPD van brought me a fine big parcel. At the time I was up to my knees in tidying up the garage, so it wasn't until later on that I opened my package. Ouch. Wrong item. They had sent me an enormous case of a different type - same make, but about three times the size (and, incidentally, twice the value). Let's not panic here.

I got online to Amazon, recorded my wish to return the item, which was accepted straight away, and I printed off labels and documents they emailed me to send the parcel back. I also rang up the music shop (they were still open at nearly 6pm - business must be either very good or very poor - take your pick).

Gentleman at the music shop said that these things happen, but didn't seem to care unduly. If I send the item back, they will refund the cost. He certainly wasn't at all apologetic - I got a faint hint that Amazon customers are a bit of a pain in the capodastro.

Now, here's the rub. Normally, in a situation like this, where the music shop knows that you are in a bit of a hurry, the guy might well say, "very sorry, we screwed up - we'll rush the correct item to you, and our courier will collect the wrong one when he calls with it".

Not in the Marketplace. The guy cannot do anything like that, because Amazon have to call all the shots on the refund - this is probably how it should be - I'm sure all you auditors will agree. SO THE SELLER IS HAMSTRUNG BECAUSE HE IS WORKING FOR AMAZON ON THIS SALE.

OK - over to Amazon themselves. I had a pleasant on-screen "chat" exchange with one of Amazon's customer reps, and he said that I have to mail the thing back to the seller, at my own cost, and the seller will refund purchase price plus my postage when they receive it. But, I said, I thought you would send me a label which would get me free return mailing.

Ah, well. This is what would happen if the item had been supplied direct from Amazon's warehouse, but it's different for a Marketplace sale. The seller, you see, has to process the refund and accept the item back into stock. I can understand that, but it does mean that AMAZON ARE ALSO HAMSTRUNG BECAUSE THEY ARE USING A MARKETPLACE SELLER.

To be fair to them, Amazon awarded the princely sum of £5 as a goodwill payment for my inconvenience. They also explained that the procedure is now thus: I repackage the parcel, attach the labels Amazon have sent me, take it to a courier [I used Royal Mail Parcelforce this morning, registered - that's £13.40] and pay the postage to get it back to the seller. When the lads in Yorkshire get their case back, they will check it's OK and will refund my £58 - any betting that they'll remember the return postage without being chased? Once I have seen on my credit card statement that everything is in order I may start again, re-ordering the same item from the same supplier, through Amazon. Just as though it never happened.

Just a minute - you mean they can't take the initiative to send me the correct item without further action from me? No - the transaction ends when they have their goods back, I have my money back, and Amazon's audit trail rings the Angelus. Then I may feel free to start all over again.

Mustn't make a fuss - things usually do go very well. My hopes for a quick, convenient purchase of an instrument case have vanished without trace, however, and I have the additional hassle of checking I get all my money back. Then I have to decide whether I am sufficiently impressed with this episode to risk going round the process one more time.

No. In fact I had already ordered the same item online (outside Amazon, from a shop in Derby - for only £48), within an hour of the conversation. If the original seller in Yorkshire had given even a token pretence of contrition I'd have considered ordering from them again - they will have to pick up the tab for my return shipping, after all. But he didn't. Fair enough. If he doesn't give a stuff, then neither do I, and whether the world is a warmer and more caring place as a result is well beyond me.

Move on - nothing to see here.

Saturday 2 June 2018

Carlo's Army

Refurbing again. This is a constant theme on this blog, and I am always moaning gently here about how some current job of restoring a batch of pre-owned figures is turning out to be more work than I had expected. Yes - that is a little odd, I agree. Every time, it seems this comes as a surprise to me - just a slow learner, I guess.

As supplied - a bit jaded, and those turnbacks and shako decorations will have to go,
but otherwise not bad at all for vintage 1973. Thank you, Carlo.
I think this running thread may give a bit of a false impression - not least to myself. Maybe it's deliberate, if unconscious. There is an implication that somehow or other these refurbing exercises are an interruption in the serious work of building my armies. Not so. I haven't carried out a proper analysis of my army catalogue, but the refurbed acquisitions are really a very substantial portion of the available forces. The truth, then, is that they are not merely an occasional inconvenience, but may actually be the backbone of the collection. Hmmm.

Having said which, it is probably worth giving the subject a little more respect, and discussing it as a process and a skill in its own right.

Since I use a rather old-fashioned scale of metal figures, and am very partial to certain old makers - notably Les Higgins/PMD - I am always interested in other people's old soldiers. I've bought loads on eBay, of course, so all sorts of anonymous contributions from unknown collectors are present in my armies. With much of this stuff I just stripped them and started again, but I've also managed to preserve quite a bit of the painting efforts of others.

I've been the recipient of some very kind donations from some very good friends over the years - Ian, Charles, Iain, Clive, Martin, Matthew, Andy and many others - you know who you are, and you know how much it is appreciated. I've also (not often, but it is an important element of my armies) bought collections or parts of collections which were no longer wanted. The most notable of these have been from Pete Welsh, Harry Pearson, Danny (and Dominic) Heggie, Steve C, the infamous "Mike and Whiskers" ECW collection which came from some poor chap's estate, courtesy of a Belfast charity shop, and so on.

I'm currently nagging an old friend to de-clutter his cupboard by selling me his remaining Napoleonics, since, by his own admission, he doesn't know why he is hanging on to them. I hope that is not as menacing as it looks, now I re-read it...

Most recently, I bought a pile of old Napoleonic Higginses from Carlo.

Carlo's figures were in unusually good shape, and nicely painted, and I have to admit that this was an important part of the appeal when I decided to buy them. The idea is that it should really not take much effort to fit them in. When they arrive, of course, such figures are always rather more worn and faded than I might have wished - not that there's anything wrong with them, but if I'm proposing to freshen faded paint and repair chips and - of course - rebase to the house standard, then it seems sensible to keep the brushes out and make the new arrivals blend in with the veterans. This means: stylistically; paint shades; organisation; basing; the lot. I like my figures to be "mine", and an important part of this is that new arrivals should not look silly compared with the existing armies and - even more critical - should not make the existing collection look silly either(!).

Carlo and his brother painted up a French Napoleonic army of Les Higgins and PMD figures a long time ago. They must just have been teenagers. Since a number of the figure poses in their collection are ones which were discontinued when the Higgins range was rationalised after Les died, I guess the painting was done about 45 years ago. They did a nice job - it's possible to find some faults with the way they went about it (since I am now sitting in forensic mode, with bright lights and the magnifying jeweller's loop - which is not how one appraises the initial photos), and there were a few clangers in the uniform department, but they did a nice job, no mistake.

I've already restored some of their cavalry, which really only needed a good clean-up, some retouching and varnish. They are already in The Cupboard, as an inspiration to get on with the remainder.

Now I'm working on the Line Infantry. By the time I've added figures to make up my standard unit organisation, I should get 4 or 5 battalions out of this lot. Because Carlo's units were not made up like mine, I'll have to add mounted colonels (Art Miniaturen figures are here, ready to paint) and - since there is a shortage of flankers and command - I shall add drummers, eagle-bearers and voltigeurs recruited from Schilling Miniaturen - I am delighted to discover that they are a very good match for Higgins, by size and style. The first job is to get Carlo's boys cleaned up and based, ready for the extras to be added. Apart from anything else, the figures when based will take up a lot less space and will store a lot more safely than the heap I have at present.

Line Infantry - work in progress (there are a couple of trial Schillings in the foreground)
More of the same - some Swiss chaps in this box
Righto. Gave them a soak in a mild detergent bath for a couple of days. Got rid of the cardboard bases and washed them carefully with a soft brush. Stuck them on the green bottletops. First thing I don't like is that the line infantry all have red turnbacks. Easily fixed, except that it will take two coats to cover the red with white, there are a lot of them and - as soon as I try one - I realise that the overall trousers are very yellow next to the fresh white. OK - I'll paint the trousers as well.

So the painting job list becomes:

* White turnbacks and trousers - two coats.
* Blue touch-up on worn bits, and clean up lines for turnbacks. Also add blue to (red) shoulder straps so they look like blue-piped-red.
* The faces have faded to a slightly pink off-white shade, so paint faces and hands for everyone - at present I use Vallejo's "Parasite Brown" for a base shade, with Foundry's "Mediterranean Flesh" as a highlight.
* Black - the shakos are not great - repaint, and also paint moustaches and cover up Carlo's powdered white hair - touch up worn cartridge pouches, sort the boots out and rescue the bayonet scabbards from the white trouser paint.
* Red - retouch worn cuffs and grenadier distinctions - not much. The red hasn't faded as much as I thought it might, so these soldiers must have been kept in a box somewhere.
* Gold - shako plates, re-do chinstraps; officer's shako trim and fancy work. Buttons will do as they are.
* Silver - bayonets.
* The packs and the rest of the kit are fine as-is.
* Cockades; company pom-poms.
* Varnish; tabletop green on figure bases; mount on MDF bases, leaving gaps for the extra command and voltigeurs.

That's one battalion's worth done - I'll do a bigger batch for the next one, now I know what I'm doing. One fairly relaxed evening listening to music - no sweat at all.

First lot based - just waiting for the missing figures - easy job, really
Not a red turnback in sight, and those hats are nearer to the regulations. More
importantly, they look like my French army now.
Apart from the extra figures for the Line (which I've bought in and are here, ready to go), there is also a hefty contingent of the Old Guard in this purchase. They are also nicely painted, the red turnbacks are not a problem for the Guard, so I guess that will be an easier job - lose the white hair and the delicate faces, general touch-up, varnish, base. Fine. Anyway, they are behind the Line in the queue (as it should be). One slight issue with the Guard is that some broken bayonets will need attention - maybe the Guard castings have weaker bayonets, but some work with the pin-vice and some staples will sort that lot out.

Somewhere down the queue - Imperial Guard - Grenadiers and Red Lancers
Beyond the Guard Infantry I am rather surprised to find that I have also set myself up to restore the Red Lancers - not quite sure when that will get done.

So - there is a pause in the Bavarian Project for a little while, as I get some more figures sorted out for painting. I can fill in odd evening sessions with the French refurb work. Let me be clear in my own mind, though - it's not an interruption - I do want to get it done!