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

Friday 31 August 2018

One Step Forward - any number of steps back

Some years ago I decided to try to get my book collection back under control (one time among many), so I selected a goodly number of volumes to sell off, give away, bin etc. Among the books that went at that time were the original (green and black) War Games by Don Featherstone, and the original (orange) Practical Wargaming by Charlie Wesencraft. I got rid of them because (a) I never looked at them any more, and (b) well, my wargaming had outgrown these books anyway, hadn't it? I sold both books on eBay, and got reasonable prices for them - these things were in demand at the time. Fine.

Sadly missed - now back in the library
Of course, it took me just about a month to realise this was all a mistake. My life was poorer without them. Whenever I needed cheering up about why I played with toy soldiers, those old books were what I missed. Therapy. After about a further year I saw a good copy of the original edition of the Featherstone book, so I bought it (yes - I did feel like a bit of an idiot, but I paid less than I had received for my original one, and I will maintain (stubbornly) that the replacement was in rather better condition).

I also replaced the Wesencraft book, by buying the new, John Curry-edited paperback. Since I bought this edition, I guess I'm entitled to an opinion; my opinion is that I am delighted that John is re-publishing all these old classics, but I found his reprint of Practical Wargaming disappointing - numerous typos, tables laid out in a way which I found very difficult to follow, and I don't like the scans of the half-tone photos at all. So, you can guess what I've done now - that's right, I've bought a nice, clean, pre-owned copy of the orange, hardback Practical Wargaming from eBay. [I was about to go on to discuss the comparison of the selling and purchasing prices, but in fact I'm too embarrassed to bother.]

So everything is now back as it was - just some stupid footling-about in between.

Anyway, what this all amounts to is me trying to put a positive spin on my Full Donkey achievement of having sold two books on eBay and then having to buy them back again, also on eBay.

Whatever, I'm happy with the arrangement.

Thought for today: How many idiots does it take to make a market?

Thursday 30 August 2018

Bavarians - More Light Infantry

I'm very pleased to welcome another unit for the 3rd Divn of Marshall Lefebvre's VII (Bavarian) Corps of 1809. This is the 5th (Buttler's) Light Bn. A bit of aristocratic patronage is very appropriate for the Bavarian army of this period, and it is a considerable privilege to have had these chaps painted at the studios of Count Goya - thank you, sir! I'm sure that all visitors will enjoy the Count's very fine brushwork.

Castings are, again, from the Falcon range, now manufactured and sold by Hagen.

Thursday 23 August 2018

More Bavarians Ready

Back to the toy soldiers. Some progress with painting this week - including the completion of two further battalions for the 3rd Divn of Lefebvre's VII (Bavarian) Corps of 1809.

Here are the second battalion of the 9th Line Regt Ysenburg, at the top, and the first of my Light Battalions - this one is the 7th, commanded by Major Günter, in the lower photo. The line infantry are Der Kriegspieler figures, with Hinton Hunt and Falcon command, and the lights are all Falcon.

 Photos taken by the light of my painting lamp are a bit washed out - the reds really are more vivid than they look here. The light infantry are shown with the skirmishers deployed - they get tucked behind out of the way when the unit is in close order column!

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Hooptedoodle #311 - The Unbeatable Strategy - Do Nothing

There are few things more pathetic than the rage of an old man, so I'll spare you any tantrums this morning. I have to say, though, that I am saddened - though not really surprised - to observe that all charges against Sir Norman Bettison in connection with the Hillsborough disaster (1989) have now been dropped by the UK Crown Prosecution Service.

Given time, everything will pass away
If anyone feels suddenly weary, or stifles a yawn at mention of Hillsborough after all these years then I understand, but thereby lies the central theme. It was a very long time ago. That has always been the last hope of those with something to hide, or those who are already known to be responsible. It was a long time ago - if this can be spun out for long enough, there will be no-one left alive with any accurate recollection or any cause to pursue. I always knew this would be the last remaining strategy, it's just a bit of a shock when you see it in the papers, after all the noise and hypocrisy.

To remind ourselves (all right - myself), 96 football fans died at the Hillsborough soccer ground, in Sheffield, at a match in 1989 - crushed to death - killed by a combination of poor safety provision, bad crowd management on the part of the authorities and (allegedly) inadequate emergency support on the day. I wasn't involved, I wasn't there, I didn't lose any friends or relatives in the accident (though, like everyone with connections with the City of Liverpool, I know a number of people who were directly affected). Subsequently there were a number of enquiries into the matter, none of which seemed to clear up very much. As I understand it, in 1997 the then UK Home Secretary, Jack Straw, advised Prime Minister Tony Blair that digging up Hillsborough again for yet another investigation was unwise, since (in effect) everyone was getting a bit fed up with the whole business. Work to set up another public enquiry at that time appears to have been hamstrung by a directive that enough time had been spent on this, and everyone would lose credibility if it found anything new.

The whole thing seems to have stunk to high heaven right from the beginning. From a completely personal point of view, I don't find that much of a surprise. Over my lifetime, I have sort of grown used to things which stank to high heaven, of cover-ups at all levels of officialdom to suit the political ends of the day. If in your heart you have a little light which believes that justice and truth will win in the end then I am glad for you and I envy you. My little light went out many years ago.

I have lived in a state of disbelief since September 2012, when an independent enquiry into Hillsborough overturned much of the previous work, and produced a stack of evidence which changed the earlier findings - there had been incompetence, there had been a massive cover-up and there were people who would be held accountable. It wasn't, after all, simply the dead fans' own fault.

I was actually in Liverpool on the day the report was published, and I saw crowds of people singing hymns in the rain outside St George's Hall - it felt unreal - a bit like when the Berlin Wall came down. The beginnings of the idea that there might, somehow, still be some Justice for the 96 was very strange, and yet it was really happening - there were apologies from the Prime Minister in the House of Commons (by this time it was David Cameron) for the previous failure of the legal system and of the Establishment. Good Lord, even the bloody Sun apologised (which somehow redefines, and cheapens, the whole concept of contrition). Whatever next?

Well, I guess I always knew what would happen next. We would enter a stage of official foot-dragging. A few token (lightweight) sacrifices would be lined up to carry the can, and then the system would wait until the passage of time washed away the case against the rest. Things proceeded, shall we say, very slowly. The identified bad guys came in various categories - those who had done their job badly at the time, and those who orchestrated the terrifying cover-up - including falsification of evidence and witness statements. Six years later, a couple of days ago, it still seemed unbelievable that we had got to the point where six prime suspects were now charged and sentence would proceed, but it was, apparently, going ahead (if we lived long enough).

Five of those now charged and held to be accountable are to return to the court in Preston - I'm not sure when, and I'm not sure if this next session will actually get as far as sentencing - my confidence in that is not helped by yesterday's news

Put this in perspective. Bettison was not directly involved in the tragedy, but has been a high-profile prime mover in the (alleged) blame-shifting and misrepresentation which has followed. Also - let's face it - he is an easy guy to dislike, but it's necessary to remember that he is a minor player in this. In the week the Independent Enquiry delivered in 2012, Bettison was in the papers and on TV, re-stating the original police version of events. Now that the charges have been dropped against him, he has the lack of grace to claim publicly that he is vindicated. No he bloody isn't. He is a very lucky boy indeed. The official foot-dragging paid off for him; he got off on a technicality. The case against him (telling lies in a public office, which in theory is more serious than it sounds) finally collapsed because it relied on three chief witnesses - one has died, and one of the others (now 85) shows some inconsistency in her evidence. Time up - the CPS says that's enough, the charges are dropped, and Sir Norman can go back to his public speaking and selling his justificatory books. If he has any integrity at all, he will go and sit in a very quiet, dark corner, and have a good think about himself.

What next? One theory is that dropping the Bettison charges is just a try-out. If the world doesn't erupt, and God doesn't strike us all down for this, then we can expect any subsequent sentences on the other five to be very trivial indeed. Well, if I were a betting man, I would risk a small punt that the lawyer who fiddled with the evidence and the then-secretary of Sheffield Wednesday (whose ground it is) might be the fall guys. I suspect the senior police officers will walk out of there with a stern warning. It's hardly going to affect their careers now, is it?

You see, it was a very long time ago, and the world has got pretty fed up with us lot from the Self-Pitying City of Liverpool. Move on - nothing to see here.

Saturday 18 August 2018

Hooptedoodle #310a - Further Adventures of Batty...

[Spoiler: Batty has a short rest on top of a stone wall, then climbs up a tree and flies off home into the woods. If this goes viral, I'm going to be kicking myself for not putting adverts in the blog.]

Hooptedoodle #310 - (Unintentional) Wildlife Rescue

I haven't tried directly uploading video to Blogger before, so this may not work, which means you'll never get to read this...

There's been some discussion of accidents involving wildlife recently, here and on Pierre le Poilu's fine blog page. Here's more of the same, but if I can get the videos to upload this should be a little more like daytime TV.

Episode 1 - The Baby Swallow

At the moment we are still troubled with nesting swallows in our woodshed, despite the ingenious introduction of a fake owl to scare them away. To put this into context, we actually like the swallows, but they make a dreadful mess of the place. If we can stop them getting in next year that will be a positive step. Mind you, we said that at the end of last Summer, too.

Anyway, this is a tale of a swallow that isn't one of ours - the Contesse was at Tescos the other day and found a baby swallow which had fallen off their roof. It seemed unharmed, if a little groggy, but it was right in the pedestrian footway, so she moved it to a safe place where its relatives could find it and take it home (or whatever). We just know this story will have a happy ending - it had better, the poor little thing is due to fly away to Africa in a few weeks. I'm sure it will be all right.

And - if it works - here's a short video of the little chap being rescued...

Episode 2 - The Bat

The business with the swallow was a few days ago. Today's excitement came when my wife was getting ready for her exercise session. Unwisely, a pipistrelle bat had decided to take a nap in her sports towel. Happily, both parties survived their chance meeting, and my wife had the advantage of having her pulse-rate nicely revved up before she started her static-bike workout. I took the trespasser outside into the garden. He seemed well enough, and we put him in a protected spot under the hedge to get his bearings.

We'll assume that is another happy ending. That's enough for this week, thank you.

Wednesday 15 August 2018

Wargaming Infrastructure - Dodgy Antique

I've been keeping an eye open for some good, easily visible means of keeping score in war games - Victory Banners, or Field of Battle's "Army Morale Points", or much more of the same. Hand-written notes on a whiteboard are OK but lacking in elegance, and prone to errors or accidental erasure; cunning schemes of keeping track with miniature playing cards, chips and so on are - again - OK, but easily forgotten about if you are under fire; scribbled pencil notes on the margin of the rules QRS are just dreadful. And so on - easier to identify things I don't like than things I like.

So, I thought to myself, what games traditionally have a formal, easy-to-use-and-understand arrangement for keeping score? I considered cribbage boards (a bit small, and a bit fiddly), portable table-tennis scoreboards (big and clunky, and the numbers are likely to wear out) and various other cunning devices.

Finally came up with this, which has a certain Gonzo charm all of its own. It arrived yesterday.

Just how badly did you want to know the score...?
It is, as you see, a billiards/snooker scoreboard of a rather unusual design, mahogany and brass - date uncertain, probably 1930s-50s - it's in nice, lived-in condition. Partially restored, but a couple of dents and missing bits - it works. I like the thing, actually, just as an old object. For knackered read possessing a convincing patina, and you're getting close.

It's a little over 86cm wide. The numbers are on brass rollers, so each of the two score rows can be switched to 1-20, 21-40, 41-60. 61-80 or 81-100. Yes, it's a bit worn, but it's old, right? The black panel on the left is a small blackboard - I had a fleeting idea of converting it to a (black) magnetised mini-noteboard, but then realised what an outrage that might represent - so blackboard it shall remain. [No writing in blue chalk, though.]

One thing for sure, in future I may have no idea how my games are going, but I will be in no doubt about the score.

If anyone is expert in this area, I suspect that it was made by EJ Riley Ltd, of Accrington, Lancs, as a special order, but have no proof - the fellow who sold it to me doesn't know the background. I'd be interested to know a little more about its pedigree if you have any ideas. 

Monday 13 August 2018

Handicrafts Dept - Sow's Ear Research Project

My recent introduction to Picquet's "Field of Battle" rules has got me thinking of all sorts of issues beyond merely playing the game. I've grown very used to Commands & Colors type games, where the presentation of units and the associated information is very simple - I've developed a big stock of sabots, on which the units are fixed magnetically. Since the game is simple (by design), it is possible to get away with placing a few coloured counters on the sabots to denote losses - it doesn't add greatly to the visual delights, but it's not a big problem.

FoB is a bit different - the units change formation, so sabots are out, and a fair amount of information needs to be associated with each unit. I really can't be doing with roster sheets - personally, given the state of my eyesight, I find them very hard work - constantly focusing and re-focusing between the sheet and the action on the table is fatiguing, as is constantly howking the specs off and on (and losing the beggars behind The Ridge). It is easy to add a few extra colours of counters with defined meanings, but the fundamental principles of OWL (the OCD Wargamers' League,  of which I am a founder member) argue strongly against running the risk of reducing the game to a pigs' breakfast.

I've been thinking up some way of making a neat and tidy job of keeping everything I need to know about each unit, right on the tabletop.

Yesterday I had a lot of fun with a bag of MDF strips and some laser-cut dice frames, suitable for 5mm dice. I think I have developed a working design. Still a couple of things to think about, and then it should just be a question of making about 100 of these things.

Dice frames from Supreme Littleness Designs, suitable for 5mm minidice, a pile
of 50mm x 10mm MDF bases from
East Riding Minatures, and a pack of 200
5mm mini-dice from
The Dice Shop - that's my starter
Sticky PVA glue the bits into position, a coat of baseboard paint...
...and I have a roll of 10mm wide self-adhesive magnetic compound strip, plus
some experimental sheets of plain (non-adhesive) magnetic sheet
My units are on MDF subunit bases, which have magnetic sheet stuck underneath, and
they sit on sabots which are topped with steel paper (or whatever the modern
replacement for steel paper is called).
My subunit bases are 50mm wide x 45mm deep; I add a loose underlay of plain mag
sheet underneath one of the subunits - this underlay is 50mm wide x 55mm deep,
which will allow me to attach a 10mm deep info tray behind the troops. 
Attach the magnetic adhesive tape underneath the info tray, trim with scissors to
smarten it up a bit - you can see where it will attach behind the subunit base...
...and here is the modified set-up on the sabot - no actual information on the tray
yet. Note that this is all completely temporary - I can remove the info tray and the
underlay and everything is back as it was.
In a FoB context, here's the same unit deployed into line - the underlay is still under the left hand subunit, 
and the magnetised info tray will hold in place (reasonably well, anyway) for movement around the battlefield. 
Here the tray is equipped with a minidice (to record loss of what FoB calls "Unit Integrity"), with a laminated
label showing the fighting and defensive dice sizes applicable to this unit, and a coloured cube to indicate which
Combat Group (= brigade) this battalion belongs to. My 8mm wooden cubes, which seemed pleasingly small
and neat, now seem maybe a tad big and clumsy - I might replace them, but this gets me operational for the
The big experiment in this lot was to see whether the existing magnetised bases, sitting on the magnetic underlay, sitting on the steel paper on the sabots, would attach as firmly as the original rig without the underlay. The answer is "not quite", but it's good enough for tabletop use - probably not secure enough for transporting them in the car. The underlays and info trays can travel separately from the troops!

Righto - it works. Fire up the factory, and get a stack of them made up, painted, labelled and stored away for forthcoming battles. OWL in action.

Thursday 9 August 2018

Hooptedoodle #309 - What a To-Doo

A bit of a Scots play on words there, but no matter. This morning I went into the village very early - I had a parcel to post. Our post office opens at 8:30, which is quite civilised really, and at present our local arts and music festival is on, which means things get very busy later on - especially since some genius has also decided this is just the time to dig up the streets in the town centre, and as a result we have parking areas coned off, temporary traffic lights - all that.

So the early shift made sense. I got to the post office just after 8:30, did the necessary business and even had time and space for a quick chat with the manager. Heading back to my car I became aware of a minor stooshie developing across the road. Goodness me.

Stock picture of unharmed wood pigeon, nowhere near here
It seems a wood-pigeon had flown into a window somewhere high above the street, and had fallen to the pavement, where it now lay, twitching, eyes closed, apparently gasping its last - opening and shutting its beak, anyway. The worst of it was that a middle-aged lady had witnessed the incident, and she was now in mid-conniption, shrieking and carrying on in fine style. Suitably alarmed, the staff from Greggs (the bakers, next door) came out and swept her into the cafe, and coffee was produced. Since there is not much else to gawp at so early in the morning, I suddenly found I, too, was in Greggs. I was idly wondering whether there might be some complimentary sausage rolls on the go as well as the coffee.

The star of the episode was in full flow - sobbing. What distressed her most, she said, was that she couldn't help thinking that her husband would simply have broken the poor thing's neck, to put it out if its misery. It was only at about this point that the Greggs people realised that all this fuss was connected with an accident to a pigeon - the lady hadn't simply been taken ill.
A couple of us went out to see whether the tragic pigeon had died yet, but it was gone. The cause of all the upset appears to have picked himself up, shaken his head, and flown away. Probably a smart move.

Next week - Dog Heard Barking...

Thursday 2 August 2018

Bavarians - Another Test Figure - Lt Bn No.5

Really not making good progress with painting this week, but have produced another painted test figure - this time for Light Bn No.5 (Buttler). Again, the casting is by Hagen, from the old Falcon range. Nice little figures these, I think.

There is something psychologically more satisfying, when time is short, in producing a single finished figure rather than, say, painting (most of) the crossbelts of an ongoing battalion of two dozen.

More of Buttler's chaps will be seen before long. Apart from another two battalions which are dribbling along in the background at the moment, the next big intake of breath is scheduled to be two battalions of the 5th Line Infantry. Bad news is that these are more of the Der Kriegsspieler castings, which are eyeball-busters as far as I am concerned; good news is that the facings are plain pink, with no piping, which simplifies things quite a bit.

I won't do any more test figures until the current batches are finished. A cavalry test must appear soon, but I'll avoid getting distracted by that at present.

Light a candle to St Luke and press on. No-one said this was going to be quick.