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

Saturday 29 December 2018

Hooptedoodle #319 - Nostalgia Trip

Posts have been a bit sparse of late on this blog. No matter. One thing I had been meaning to say something about was a recent visit I made with my wife to Liverpool, my birthplace, at the start of December. We went only for a few days, and we weren't very lucky with the weather, but it was good fun, and I did a few things - mostly rather silly, personal things - that I've been meaning to do for years.

I have only one surviving relative in Liverpool these days - cousin Mark, with whom we met up for dinner one evening while we were there - so normally there are no pressing reasons to visit the place, apart from self-indulgence, and my last visit was in 2012. We stayed at the Campanile, which is very cheap and cheerful, at the Queen's Dock. We visited the cathedrals (on the wettest day I can remember) and trogged around the old city centre, with me trying to recall what old buildings used to be on particular sites in my day. Yes, I know - how pointless is that?

I have to say that the city is far cleaner and more prosperous than I remember it, but it is disturbing how much it has changed - I have a feeling that some of the change has lost a few things as well. Babies and bath-water come to mind.

I went to have a look at the house where I was born - well, all right, I wasn't born there at all, I was born at the Maternity Hospital (in Oxford Street?) like most other people from the South end, but I lived there from ages zero to 10.

6, Belvidere Road - that's Liverpool 8, Toxteth, if you insist, but it is certainly among the posher bits of Toxteth, and I suppose it's more accurate to refer to it as Princes Park. We got the bus from the city centre to Princes Avenue, and walked down to Belvidere, which had changed very little (though the houses look better-maintained, and some charitable soul has replaced the railings and gates, which obviously were not required to be thrown at Hitler after all).

We had a splendid walk through Princes Park to Sefton Park, and then through Sefton Park to my grandmother's old house in Mossley Hill. When I was a kid we used to do this walk (both ways, in fact) most fine Sundays, and I was keen to see it again. It always seemed an enormous distance to walk with small children, but in fact it's not nearly as far as I remembered - probably only a couple of miles each way.  It was a fairly dry day, and everything seemed very fresh and familiar. I haven't walked through Princes Park since the 1960s, I guess, but it hasn't changed much.

From my grandmother's old house we continued up Penny Lane to Smithdown, had a coffee and took the bus back into town. That's another one for the bucket shop list - I'm really pleased I did it, and I don't need to think about it any more!

We also took advantage of our only other dry day to travel by ferry across the Mersey to Seacombe. Then we walked along the riverside promenade past Wallasey as far as New Brighton, on the end of the Wirral Peninsula, complete with the Perch Rock Fort, which Turner painted in some of his wilder sessions, but the old Tower Ballroom, where as a youth I once saw Little Richard, is long gone. New Brighton was definitely looking a bit gone-to-seed - we took the Mersey Railway back under the river to James Street. Great walk - I was impressed by the number of fishermen on the promenade - when I lived in those parts there would have been nothing alive to catch in the Mersey, that's for sure!

On our last evening we went to the Philharmonic Hall in Hope Street, to see the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in action. Marvellous. High spot of the concert for me was Stravinsky's Firebird, which is a great favourite of mine. The previous occasion on which I was in the Phil was probably Speech Day in my final year in the Sixth Form at Quarry Bank School. Hmmm.

Some photos follow - nothing too onerous, I hope.

Over the hills and faraway - travelling south on the M6 over Shap Fell. The Lake District is somewhere over to the right
It still surprises me that Liverpool has become a tourist centre...

Jesse Hartley's old port sometimes doesn't sit well with the new buildings - my father, his two brothers and their dad all worked at Liverpool Docks at various times - I wonder what they'd make of it now

6 Belvidere Road - my first home - we lived in the top flat (which I think is two apartments now). It looks better maintained now than it was back in my infancy. The street is quite elegant, and hasn't changed a lot, but the labyrinth of little terraces around the back - Miles St, Clevedon St, South St, Hawkstone St and so many others - real Toxteth - has been knocked down and replaced many years ago

Let us not speak of the purple dustbins...
Princes Park - scenes of childhood...
...and its lake, which once had rowing boats for hire
Linnet Lane - apart from the lack of my kid sister's pram and a few modern cars, looks about the same
Lark Lane - quite arty these days - leads to Aigburth and my old primary school at St Mick's
The cafe in the middle of Sefton Park - seems to have sprouted some modern wings, but recognisably the same place. I think it was painted cream, and I remember there was a Wall's Ice Cream man selling ices from a pedal-tricycle cart here on Sundays. Note the shadow of the Ghost of Christmas Past

The quiet end of Queen's Drive, Mossley Hill - this is the great ring road which loops around the city to Seaforth and Bootle in the North.
My Nan's old house, on the corner of Briardale Road and Herondale. She was still resident here when she died in 1980 - not much has changed, though someone has roofed over her backyard - how very odd?

Sefton Park's celebrated Palm House, a fabulous old facility which has been rescued from vandalism and general wear and tear numerous times over the years

The Peter Pan statue in Sefton Park - one of my earliest memories from childhood; in fact it has been shifted - it is now located near to the Palm House; as far as I remember, it used to be in the flower garden near the big lake.

This is something - very quirky building - Dovedale Road Baptist Church, where my parents were married in 1945. They had met at the youth club here. The building was completed (I think) in 1903, and by the perversity of history it had closed as a church about 6 weeks before our visit! Right opposite was Dovedale Rd Primary School, which included John Lennon and my cousin Dave among its alumni. Yes, I believe the church may have been designed by a madman.

Absolutely - THAT Penny Lane. Lucky to have kept its name - the city council was planning to change the names of all streets in the city which referred to families who were associated with slavery or slave-supported businesses - the plan was shelved when they realised that Penny Lane was one such, and that there would be a great many disappointed tourists if it had been called Nelson Mandela Street instead.
The Lady Chapel in Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. Speak it in whispers, but I was a member of the choir here when I was about 12 - that was until they found out what was wrong with it.
The Royal Iris - the latest of a great many Royal Irises - the ferry for Seacombe (Wallasey) - back in the day, the Seacombe ferry had a white funnel, the Birkenhead ferries had brick-red ones.

Wallasey Town Hall, looming above the River Walk

Nothing else to do now but wish everyone all the very best for the New Year. 2018 has definitely been a duff one for me and my family - we are hoping for rather better in 2019. Once again I regret to observe that I have been overlooked in the New Year Honours List, but I thought I'd share with you my great pleasure that John Redwood has been knighted, presumably for being a pain in the arse for so many years, and for services to xenophobia. How lovely. Gives me a warm feeling in my stomach - possibly dyspepsia?  

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

Penny Lane Supplement...

In response to Steve's comment, a couple of old pictures. Penny Lane is an old street in the Allerton area of Liverpool (Liverpool 18, in old money) which runs between Smithdown Place and Greenbank Park. Apart from the fact that it intersects with the road where my Nan used to live(!), it is not all that interesting. On the other hand, "Penny Lane" was the name of the old tram terminus which was at the intersection of Allerton Road, Smithdown Place, Church Road (Wavertree - where the Bluecoat School is), Elm Hall Drive and - well, Penny Lane. The area was known as "Penny Lane", mostly because that was what it said on the front of the trams and buses. As it says in the song, the shelter for the transport terminus is on a roundabout in the middle. That shelter has now been tarted up into a Beatles-themed place. The barber's shop still exists, though back in the 1960s it was owned by Roger Bioletti's granddad (Roger was a year below me at grammar school) - nowadays it, also, lives on the Beatles connection. The main point here is that both the shelter and the barber were, and still are, in Smithdown Place, which is the (sketchy) setting for the song, at the area which has been known for donkeys' years as "Penny Lane", though Penny Lane itself is only one of the streets which runs into that junction.

I may have explained that so brilliantly that even I can't understand it any more. Here are the pictures - all borrowed from elsewhere:

Bioletti's barber shop, Smithdown Place, 1960s

The shelter, in 1956 - looking in exactly the opposite direction to previous photo - this time looking along Allerton Road - the barber's shop must be just off the left edge of the picture

Somewhat later view of the shelter - circa 1970? - here we are looking towards Church Road, with Allerton Rd off to the right and Smithdown to the left, and Penny Lane itself directly behind us.
The actual song is a bit of a montage of boyhood memories - some poetic licence in there - the Fire Station is in Mather Avenue - a couple of miles away past Allerton Road, on the way to Garston - on the way, in fact, to McCartney's home at Forthlin Road, which is off Mather Avenue.

All the Beatle-theming and tourist exploitation is probably OK, but ironic to those of us old enough to recall that Liverpool youth in the 1960s was regarded by the local authorities as just as much of a pestilence as you would expect. Visitors today may be directed to the New Cavern in Mathew Street, but they will not see much information about the fact that the council closed the original place down the first real chance they got. Mind you, it was unhygienic and failed every possible H&S test you could think of, but it's nonetheless true that they had regarded it, and places like it, as blots on the official presentation of Liverpool the Commercial City (and former Second City of the Empire, if anyone could remember that). That particular rubber stamp must have been banged down with a lot of satisfaction. How times change. How attitudes are re-engineered to suit.

Slavery and Beat Clubs - choose your viewpoint to fit the times in which you live!


Tuesday 25 December 2018

Hooptedoodle #318 - Unfamiliar Birds

Very quiet day here - grey and overcast. The Contesse and I went for a walk down by the River Tyne (as discussed previously, this is the Scottish Tyne, not the one that goes through Newcastle). Very quiet down there - maybe people are put off by the muddy conditions? We did see a couple of birds which we didn't recognise - since we didn't have a camera with us these are not our photos, but these are definitely what we saw - library photos courtesy of the RSPB, which is where we get our knowledge of birds anyway!

White-Throated Dipper
Goosander - male on the right
We walked along the river to the footbridge next to Hailes Castle, crossed over and back to the village of East Linton by (very quiet) public roads to reclaim our car. Good walk - only about 4 miles, but stimulating on a cold day.

The narrow bridge over the Tyne at the village of East Linton - until 1927 this was part of the A1, main road from Edinburgh to London!
Hailes Castle - another seat of the Hepburn family, I think - can't move for history round here!

Friday 21 December 2018

Hielan' Coos - and the Ramekin

First off, I must wish everyone a happy and comfortable Christmas - all the very best to you and yours. Here's a suitably frozen picture of some Scottish cattle. Tourist stuff, but cute.

I also thought I'd take the opportunity to put out the current draft of my Ramekin add-on for Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. In truth, "add-on" is not ideal phrasing, since the Ramekin game is a simplification. As I attempt to explain in the note, this is not intended to replace C&CN, it is merely a variation to cope with games where the left/centre/right section cards are not appropriate, or where the battle requires a lot of preliminary movement to develop the armies, or where the game is so large that some streamlining of the activation system helps to push it along. What I have is still a working draft, so it will certainly change further, but a number of people have asked me about it.

Replacement of the Command Cards with a dice-based activation system feels a bit like a sell-out, and I had all sorts of ideas for making the dice system very scientific, possibly utilising the army structure - the Tempo Points system from Polemos' General de Division was a likely candidate (I've always liked that) - but in the end I decided simple is good, at least for starting with, so the system at present may be described as crude-but-fast. This may get improved a bit as I build some more experience, but it gets me up and running.

The scaling-back of the effect of ranged musketry is an experiment. I am keen not to destroy the balance of the game, but, as published in C&CN, musket fire at 2-hex range is about as effective as melee combat, which has always bothered me rather. Let's see how we get on with this. I've had a great many games where attacks get shot to pieces before the attackers can even get to close range - that doesn't seem to correspond completely with history. Anyway, let's see how I get on with the tweak. If I can get the changed version of Google Drive to work, you should find the note here.

If you'd like to discuss the Ramekin, or make suggestions, or share you own experiences with it, please get in touch, but if you think it sucks then please keep it to yourself! Also, before anyone asks, I have no intention of publishing or maintaining a set of scenarios for Ramekin!

Have an excellent holiday, everyone.

Sunday 16 December 2018

Hooptedoodle #317 - Segovia - Not to Be Sneezed At

 I've had a fiddly sort of week, sorting out my accounts, paying bills, tidying up. I also invested a little time in sorting some more of the dreaded lead pile into potential units for painting, and boxing them up in plastic sandwich boxes, labelled with Sharpie pen - "3 bns French lights - no command" and similar. You can see how this might work - if I can find where I have now put the little boxes I can get them painted up - if I can't find them then at least I have lost the lot in a single step, which is efficient in a rather specialised sense.

While I was involved in this scientific and worthwhile activity (which must look uncomfortably like mucking around to the rest of the world), I was listening to BBC Radio 3, as one does (or could do - other stations are available, of course). One of the recordings they played was of the great Spanish maestro of the classical guitar, Andres Segovia, and I was reminded that I am old enough to have seen him in concert - long ago, when the world was young.

Sketch of Segovia in concert in Brussels in 1932 - before my time...
My recollection was that the concert took place at Leith Town Hall (that's sort of Edinburgh to you), but I could hardly believe that such a gig ever took place. So I took time off the sorting and boxing to check online, which, of course, is exactly why these jobs take so long and where the accusations of mucking about probably arise.

The Leith concert did take place - in winter time, in early 1971, when Segovia was a plump-but-sprightly 78, on what was expected to be his final European tour. I got a ticket through my friend Thomas, who was very keen and had recently joined (I may not get this quite right) The Edinburgh Classical Guitar Society - it was they who were putting on the concert, and it must have been something of a coup for them. I went along because I was a fan, and also because I might never have the chance again [digression: I once saw Louis Armstrong at the Liverpool Philharmonic, exactly because my mum thought I should go, since it might be the last chance. If Napoleon comes to your town, you should go to see him, so you can tell the grandchildren, or bore some future generation of blog readers].  

Leith Town Hall in sunnier times - in fact, I'm not convinced the concert was in this part of the building
Thomas and I arrived late, just before the concert started. There were a couple of hundred people in the audience. It was dark in the hall, and pokey, and freezing cold (you could see your breath at the start, and the guests all kept their hats and coats on). We seem to have been seated on folding wooden seats, so it was also creaky and uncomfortable, but the worst thing of the lot was the acoustic ambience of the hall. Church-like echoes, and Segovia himself was almost inaudible - everyone had to keep very quiet throughout, and it all got a bit tense. I am getting ahead of myself...

At the appointed hour, Old Andres came out onto the platform. He didn't speak or smile at any time of the show - I can hardly blame him. He tuned up for a minute or so, and then began his performance - a nice bit of Albeniz or something. After about 30 seconds, someone coughed, Segovia stopped, glared around the hall and started again - from the beginning. Same thing happened during the third or fourth piece - laser-beam stare and start again. Since everyone seemed to have a seasonal cold, the whole thing became very edgy indeed. Everyone in agony in case they sniffed, or their chair creaked. I began to convince myself that I was certain to sneeze. While aware of the privilege of just being there, I spent the rest of the first half just wishing the thing was over.

Came the interval, and I joined Thomas in an adjoining room, where cups of tea (from the municipal urn) were available. I recall that I was still wearing my gloves. Thomas was spotted as a new member, and was buttonholed by the secretary. How were we enjoying the concert? Thomas and I had just been moaning to each other, but Thomas was tactful enough to avoid telling the Hon Sec that it had been one of the most harrowing hours of his life. He did ask why the heating wasn't working, and the question was dismissed out of hand. Warming (wrong word) to his theme, Thomas suggested that if the concert had been at the Edinburgh Usher Hall, or any serious concert venue, some tasteful amplification would have been used to boost the sound to a level where the paying audience could actually hear it. A couple of good condenser mikes and a competent sound man and the music would have been perfectly fine with just a gentle boost. Tasteful - you know how it might be.

The Sec almost had apoplexy, and raved on about how you cannot possibly reproduce the sound of the guitar through a microphone or any type of amplification equipment. Eventually he paused to take a sip of his tea, and presumably to gather his strength for a further onslaught.

For the only time I can ever remember, Thomas got a bit annoyed.

"Tell me," he asked the Sec, "at home, do you have recordings of Segovia?"

"Oh yes, I have just about everything he has recorded, including some very rare pieces which I obtained through a Spanish subscription club of which I am a member - wonderful, wonderful music, much of it from when he was in his prime."

"And you enjoy listening to these recordings?" asked Thomas, innocently.

"Of course - there is nothing finer"

"You do realise," Thomas continued, "that there isn't a little man in your gramophone playing a little guitar? - the sound comes from an electric amplifier, though a loudspeaker, and was captured for purposes of the recording using microphones. You did know that?"

The Sec turned on his heel (quite rightly), went off to rub shoulders with Andres himself. With luck, Segovia might just have bent his ear about the state of the hall, especially the sound, the near-darkness and the bloody temperature, and the fact that, by the way, the tea was crap...

The second half was slightly less stressful - the presence of all those coated bodies must have warmed the place up a bit, but I was still more than a little pleased when it was over, we could move around a bit and I could get rid of the flat area on my backside.

Segovia may have stopped touring, but he was still recording in 1977, when he was 84. He finally died in 1987 - I hope he was warm and comfortable and everyone kept quiet for him. Thomas lives in Northamptonshire now, and is still trying to play classical guitar, bless him.

Me, I live in Scotland and spend time mucking around with toy soldiers. We are - all of us - always just one cup of tea from history.

Monday 10 December 2018

Same Old Painting Style, and a Brush(?) with Technology

Reports of my passing have been premature - I've been a bit preoccupied...

This afternoon I've finished off painting the mounted officers for my next Bavarian infantry regiment. These figures are new releases from Hagen, which turned out rather nicely, I think. They are uniformed as LIR 10, Junker.

Yesterday I visited the Stryker Estates, up in t'North, for a proper Old School style wargame, and very nice too. A new departure for us was live posting on Instagram - if I'd known I'd have arranged to take my make-up crew with me (my hairdressing people only work part-time now). The game was loosely based on Plancenoit, and finished as a draw, which surprised me since I had the impression all afternoon that my lot were getting thumped. Now that we have an international online audience available, it could be that a rematch will be almost as big a draw as the Fury vs Wilder refight. Stryker will have to get his advertising contracts dusted off.

General view early in the game
My French skirmishers were lethal
Stryker's splendid Old Guard - mine for the afternoon - pinned in square by Prussian uhlans - no-one came near them!
Excellent day, as ever - my thanks to Baron and Baroness S for their kind hospitality, and my compliments to Stryker and Goya for their company and the excellent toys.