A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Coming Up - Ney Day?

There's a great deal made of anniversaries these days. The great thing about an anniversary is that we know when it's coming round, so the media people can prepare something in advance, during slack periods. Sometimes these anniversaries can seem a bit contrived, or they commemorate something that isn't very interesting, or that nobody has heard of (which is a special case of "not very interesting", I suppose).

Recently it was the 54th anniversary of my Uncle Harold accidentally reversing into the lady next door's car, in Bromborough. The stature of this anniversary is limited by the fact that very few folk who knew of the incident at the time are still alive, and those who are cannot remember it anyway, so it is unsatisfactory on a number of counts - not helped by the fact that no-one was hurt.

No - we have to aim higher. This post is all the Duc de Gobin's fault, by the way, since he reminded me of the classic Waterloo film from 1970. Subsequently I was browsing around the subject of the movie - online, like - and I discovered that Dan O'Herlihy, the Irish actor who played Marshal Ney in the movie, was born on 1st May 1919. If Steiger will always be the true Napoleon to many of us, then for me O'Herlihy will forever be the iconic Ney, the man who told the Emperor to abdicate, for goodness' sake. You can't get any more important or influential than that - though it surprises me that I never saw O'Herlihy, as far as I know, in anything else. It has been suggested that they had to pay so much to secure the services of Steiger, Plummer and Orson Welles in the Bondarchuk movie that they economised by filling the rest of the cast with lesser lights - first-rate actors who were less well-known. And Terence Alexander, of course. 

Anyway, this means we are fast approaching the 100th anniversary of the birth of The-Man-Who-Played-Ney. I don't expect this to get into the BBC Radio 4 world news on 1st May, so I guess I'll have to commemorate Ney Day privately. I can always watch Waterloo again, of course, with a mug of cocoa, but I'd welcome any good ideas about a suitable way of celebrating.

Any thoughts?

To get myself in the mood, here's the classic opening sequence, in which we discover that Napoleon's Marshals were trained to speak in turn, in the best traditions of panto, that Marshal Soult was a Scotsman (played by an Italian actor), that Napoleon wore specs and that Marmont was a rotten scoundrel. Great stuff. Love it.

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

Scrapbook stuff, courtesy of the Interweb.

Ney (Michel, not Dan the Man) was born in Saarlouis, which these days is in Germany - his birthplace is now an Italian restaurant, but the situation is rescued by the fact that its address is 13 Bierstrasse, which is more like it. I don't know if the restaurant is the original building, but since his father was a cooper, it is no surprise that they had a big cellar.

Here's young Michel in the 4th Hussars, 1792.


Tuesday, 23 April 2019

For King and Parliament - At Last a Proper Try-Out Game

Last week I finally (finally) managed to set up a range-finder game of For King and Parliament - Count Goya was kind enough to travel down from his estates up North to take part.

What follows is not a serious critical review of FK&P - since the game is becoming very successful and popular, and is played enthusiastically by a number of people whose taste and judgement I respect, anything I write here is likely to say more about me than it does about the game, and much has already been expressed about its merits. If you have not played it yourself, there is a good chance you will have seen one of the spectacular demonstration games at wargame shows in recent months. On the other hand, whether or not it suits me is - inescapably - an important personal criterion.

I did have some concurrent distractions going on in the Real World, which is a lame excuse really, but I found it quite difficult to get up to speed with the rules. I had no background involvement with its Ancient and Medieval father, To the Strongest (and I still reckon that makes a big difference to understanding the concepts). I found a lot of excellent ideas in it, and I very much liked the spirit in which the rules were written and presented. I have also benefitted, I must add, from some very kind after-sales consultancy from the co-authors, and from on-line friends and blog contacts who have played it already, so I have little or no justification for being obtuse.

It's not that the game is complex - it is a little unusual, maybe even quirky, in some respects, but that's all grist to the wassname. I found there was a lot to remember - a lot of exceptional combinations of things which need to be jotted down somewhere [example - although I thought I was OK with this one, I suddenly had a wobbly moment during our game - I was sure that when "Dutch" style horse attack "Swedish" style, the melee has to switch around so that the defenders become the attackers (in rule terms). Damned if I could find it in the rule-book in the heat of the moment, so we had to fix up a Convention of the Day. I was disappointed with myself...]

With all due respect, I have to say that the official QRS is among the three or four worst I have ever seen - it is verbose, yet it seems to avoid saying anything about combat, for example. I was very grateful for the inclusion of a very good index in the book though - I'd have been in big trouble without it.

I had real problems getting my head around the Activation Penalties rules, but it turned out that I was confused by a couple of errors in the worked examples in the book. I know that Ver 1.1 of the rules has these slips corrected. I have no problems at all with the gridded battlefield, that's all pleasingly straightforward (though Morschauser followers may object to the fact that I find square-based terrain a lot more alien than my usual hexes). The use of playing cards did not alarm me, provided I could keep the tabletop clutter down to acceptable levels - I have bought in supplies of half-sized patience cards, which helps a lot, and have tried to develop a very OCD regime for tidying up after each turn. One thing which is actually suggested in the rule book, and to which we should have attached more weight, is the need to keep the "To Hit" and "Save" cards physically separated from the "Activation" cards - it is important to keep the former on your baseline, and tidy them away immediately after play, and to keep the latter on the table, placed tidily alongside the unit or leader to whom they apply. My newly-developed house protocols also require the cards to be tidied and placed face down with each brigade when its activation is complete (so you can see which brigades haven't done anything yet this turn), and we tidy all cards away and shuffle them back into the deck when the player's turn is finished. This game includes a lot of potential for making a real mess with the playing equipment, which is aesthetically suboptimal and especially so if you use small figures like mine. You have to be able to take photos of your game, after all...

On the same theme, there is a lot of information to be carried around with the units. I was a bit alarmed at the outset with the potential for the game to become buried in counters. The systems are well thought out, no doubt, but I think it is necessary for each player to decide for himself how he keeps track of the unit info. I have a long-held hatred of off-table rosters, which I find distracting and which disrupt the on-table flow. I am also famously cack-handed when it comes to knocking over piles of tiddlywinks, or leaving the things adjacent to the wrong unit, which may be explained as the Fog of War, but doesn't help the already-confused.

I got a lot of help and good ideas from a number of people (to whom I have offered my thanks previously), and I adopted (to some extent pinched) a system of small, attached labels, laminated, on which records may be maintained in dry-wipe whiteboard pen. The labels actually worked out pretty well, though the magnetic attachment system proved unreliable - labels kept getting separated from their units, which was fiddly and inconvenient. I had hoped to avoid it, but I think I had better make proper sabots for the units to stand on - it will simplify moving, and tidy things up a lot. That's sort of pencilled in as a must-do.

One aspect of the game which I appreciated (perversely, maybe) is that to some extent it is an ideas toolkit - it is not overly prescriptive - there is a need for each player adopting the game to think seriously about how he will set it up physically - what size squares, how (and if) he uses playing cards, or chits-in-a-bag, or decimal dice, how he adopts (or adapts) the information counters system to suit his scales and his sense of aesthetics (and level of OCD).

I set up a decent-looking game the night before the arranged date, and spent some of the night worrying about it, so that first thing the next morning I came downstairs and cut the size of the game down by about half. That was a sound idea - we played very slowly, since we spent a lot of time with our heads in the book, but we did OK. As units collected "disorder" markers, their fighting effectiveness fell away, and for a while there was the impression of a relentless (occasionally bewildering) series of card drawings which for the most part didn't achieve anything. With more time and experience (and wisdom), of course, we'd have put more effort into pulling units back out of the action and attempting to rally them back into shape, in a more soldierly manner. The card play is entertaining - in a social game, there is good scope for associated banter and mock applause, etc, but for a solo game I am not so sure. It might be a grunt.

We didn't finish the game, but that wasn't the point. I am left with a recollection that, even in a small game, each player's turn is quite long, and it is easy to forget where you are up to, especially when units are fighting back in melee, or returning fire - I think I might try to add a little jotter system to remind me whose turn it is. We didn't use Victory Medals (though I strongly fancy the chocolate coins idea) - we counted backwards on my ex-billiards scoreboard.

Unfortunately, my period of induction to the game has coincided with some issues elsewhere, but for a couple of months the rulebook has accompanied me on train journeys and so on, and has been my bedtime reading matter. It is a genuine relief to have advanced as far as playing a game - I have a better feel for what is involved now, I can put some more focused effort into setting up the next game. I can also put the bloody book away for a few weeks and think about something else!

The game is good - it is not the life-changing experience some might have hoped for, but it will doubtless become more familiar and more intuitive. My first impressions are a bit mixed, but overall probably more favourable than my first efforts at Commands & Colors, which has become a way of life for me now!

Some pictures follow - I won't attempt any kind of logical narrative, since it was a rules try-out, and there isn't one. Apologies for the cut-price scenery - I'm working on it.

The trial game - if the cards behave themselves, and co-operate, you can get a lot done in a single turn, and move some of your units a long way
Horse - we adopted a convention that "Swedish"-style (galloper) horse deployed as a line of 3 bases, and "Dutch"-style as a column of 4

Foot getting up close
General view - our trial game was a little sparse (intentionally so) - note the face-down cards, tidily denoting that each brigade has finished its business for this turn, and the little pile on the left is the used "To Hit" and "Save" cards - very confusing if these get mixed up. Parliament on the left here, with the red cards.
No Victory Medals for us - too mean, for one thing - just the old scoreboard waiting patiently for some action
This and the remainder of the photos are here under false pretence - this is the original, larger game I set up the night before, which would have been nice to look at but a really bad idea for getting to grips with the rules.

In passing, note that the ploughed fields were cut from a pair of needle-cord trousers I had in about 1970. Astonishing that I cut them to fit the square grid I would adopt for this game nearly 50 years later. What planning has gone into this hobby, now I think about it.

As always, I use undersized buildings to help with the ground-scale anomalies - 15mm Hovels buildings here, with 20mm men, laid out on 7.5-inch squares (or boxes, as we say in FK&P). Plenty of wine handy, but the Puritans won't touch it, of course. The rules are within easy reach, too - the "corners-only" phantom grid markings work nicely.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

eBay/PayPal - Glitch Department - Be Very Afraid...

Short post about a potential misadventure I had this week. Hopefully everything is sorted out now, but it bothers me because it looks like a security bug in PayPal, which would be a huge confidence shaker. I use PayPal quite a bit these days for all sorts of online purchases, and if I have any doubts about its sanctity I shall drop it like a hot potato.

A few days ago I completed a routine purchase on eBay - large, reputable seller I've dealt with before. Paid via my PayPal account, and received all the usual confirmations and "order completed" mails from eBay. As ever, I filed them away in the "eBay" folder - just in case - you know how it is. As ever, I didn't really look at them. After I'd filed the order details, I suddenly realised that there had been something odd about some of the information on the last document. So retrieved it and - sure enough - the delivery address was someone in London who is not me. I've never heard of this person, or had any dealings with them. I checked my PayPal account, found the payment entry, clicked on the details, and there it was again - everything was correct except the delivery address.

I mailed the seller, who is a decent, helpful chap, and explained the situation - he has agreed to send the package to my correct address, so no further worries there. The wider implications are a bit scary, though.

It seems that, as part of a routine PayPal settlement for an eBay purchase - a situation which must occur zillions - possibly even brazilians - of times every day, PayPal has correctly made payment to the seller, but has supplied him with an incorrect delivery address. From someone else's account, it seems.

Some thoughts:

* what if I hadn't spotted it? - the parcel would have gone to a complete stranger, though the seller would have no cause to suspect that anything has gone wrong. As far as I am concerned, the parcel would simply never have reached me. Another mystery of the sea.

* more worryingly, if this is a glitch in the PayPal security system, what else could go wrong? How much does this shake my confidence in PayPal? How likely am I to use it again, for anything?

I've now changed my passwords for eBay and PayPal, as one does, and I've emailed PayPal to report the incident. It isn't a catastrophe, I've caught the problem before any damage was done, the amount of money involved was not large anyway - no need to dramatise. The big problem is that I really do not wish PayPal to have frailties, or make mistakes. I use PayPal because it is convenient, provides a level of confidentiality between me and the seller, and because it is not one of the Bastard Credit Card Companies. If my faith is compromised, I shall change my habits - that's for sure.

Of course, PayPal have not yet replied, and they may send me a perfectly reasonable explanation and appropriate reassurance, but at the moment I am hard pressed to think what they could possibly say that would make me feel comfortable.

Just saying. If you use PayPal to pay for an eBay purchase - or anything else for that matter - recommend that you check very carefully all the documentation that you receive, including details of where your package will be sent.

If anything further develops, I'll stick a little post up here.

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

OK - I received an email message from PayPal explaining how I may amend my postal address if it is incorrect. No help - not what I was looking for. On Tuesday, once the Easter weekend was over, I emailed them again and explained that they had missed the point of my previous message, or had possibly not looked for any point in it, and that I had serious concerns over security.

Very quick email reply from them asked me to phone them - the number was a free UK 0800 number, but I was speaking to people in the US. Heavy going - they were going to reverse the eBay transaction and do all sorts. We sorted that out - they understood that I had sorted out shipping details with the seller, and that primarily I was worried about how the PayPal address for someone else had been supplied to the seller for my purchase.

PayPal staff said they were confident that a default shipping address had been supplied from somewhere else, and it had suppressed the request for the address from my PayPal account, but that this must be due to a fault in eBay's completion software, or in some website application used within the seller's online shop. As we say in Scotland, it wusnae them, whatever. They also said they will raise it as a potential security issue, so that the software people may include it in future reviews.

They assured me that it won't happen again, but I can promise I will be checking very carefully the details of any PayPal transactions I take part in for a while. Really not very happy about all this.

Anyway - move on - let's find something else to worry about; however, the more they tell us that nothing can go wrong, the more disturbing it is when something does.


Saturday, 20 April 2019

Hooptedoodle #332 - Where Are We, Anyway?

This follows on from a conversation I had with the Contesse, which rambled around the (supposedly) related topics of spatial awareness, how we find our way to somewhere (in a car, for example), and the impact of satellite navigation systems, both on our lives and the way we think about travel.

I was very interested to consider the different approaches to this - that's the wrong wording - "how we think about it" is better. I also realised that since I moved to live in the country I have changed my own thought patterns.

If you are flying an aeroplane, or sailing a boat in the open sea, then the information you need to get to somewhere is likely to be a direction - a magnetic bearing. You will have to conform to accepted legal sea-lanes and so on (which is a bit like streets, I guess), but otherwise the actual direction of travel is the important item - and maybe whether you have enough fuel to get there.

On the ground it isn't like that.

Street Map - follow the Yellow Brick Road
 I grew up a townie. Lived in cities for years. When I was a kid, we didn't travel as much as we do now, and we tended to stick to our own locality. If I needed to go further than usual, all I really needed to know was which bus to catch, and where it stopped - then it became the driver's problem to get me there. When I started cycling, I found that to visit my uncle in Woolton I needed to know more than the simple fact that the no.73 bus went there - I needed to know an actual route. That route might start off by being very similar to the route which the bus took, but it would get refined to avoid (or take advantage of) particularly steep hills and dangerous bits, and to shorten the trip as much as possible. The route I would learn would consist of a string of street names and turning instructions, and it would be tweaked to be suitable for a young chap on a bicycle.

Go to the end of Rose Lane, turn left into Allerton Road, go along until the right turn at the junction with Queens Drive, and go along Menlove Avenue for about 3 miles, turn left into Woolton Village High Street, go over the hill and bear right after that into Manor Way... and so on.

The instruction set would be a string of information not unlike what your sat-nav will tell you - names of streets, and when to turn into the next street. If I got lost, on my bike, or if one of the streets was closed for roadworks, for example, I might know enough about the area to be able to improvise, or I might take an educated guess, or I might need to look at a street map if things got tricky.

When I am driving my car to somewhere by a route I do not know well, if I pull over for a break along the way and someone asks me "where are we?", the odds are I won't actually know. I can look at the display on the sat-nav, and it might tell me that I can expect to be in Worcester at 17:14, and it might tell me that I am driving on the A6, and the next turn is in 8.7 miles. As to where we are - unless I have a rough idea from other knowledge, or there is a sign of some sort, or something distinctive to use as a landmark, I don't really know. Obviously that is not something that I absolutely have to know for the purposes of this stage of this journey. Unless something goes wrong.

Sat-nav explains things in terms of the streets - safest way if you're a stranger in these parts
If something goes wrong, then I had better have a road atlas in the car, or be able to ask someone who knows the area. If, during my break from driving, I phone someone and they ask me where I am, I may only be able to give them a rough idea - I'll know where I'm headed for, I may know how far I've driven, or how long I've been driving for, but apart from these I would need some familiarity with the area to offer an opinion. This becomes suddenly rather important if the stop is because I have broken down, and I need to request the rescue service to help me. I might be able to tell them "I'm on the A6, somewhere just south of Shap", or my mobile phone might be able to offer me a GPS reading.

Otherwise, then, we normally know where we are hoping to get to, how long it will take, how long we have been going, and that's probably about it.

When I was a boy I was fascinated by maps - I used to stare at random pages in the family's big Times atlas, and spot some unknown little town in India, and wonder who lived there, and what they were doing at this moment (I did once wonder what were the chances that someone in that town was, at that very moment, looking at a map and wondering who lived in Liverpool - I was a rather odd child). It would be possible to spot all the villages off the A6 as they passed through the sat-nav screen, and maybe even to wonder who lived there, but that sounds a rather stressful way to pass a journey.

Righto. Almost 20 years ago I moved to the country. You can forget street names, for the most part, unless you are in a village. The sat-nav will tell you that you are driving on the B1904, perhaps, but that means nothing - no-one knows the road by that name. A journey, I find, has stopped being a succession of streets and has become a string of places I am going to travel through. Thus if I wish to drive from my house to the Flight Museum at East Fortune, for example, I know that I will travel via Auldhame, Halfland Barns, Blackdykes, Leuchie, Balgone Barns, Kingston, Congleton Mains, past the garden centre at Merry Hatton and then to East Fortune. These places will be villages, farms, big houses, sometimes a lake or a quarry, whatever - the focus is on the places themselves rather than the names of the roads which connect them - mostly the names of the roads are meaningless, unless they are fairly big roads. Many of the roads look similar, in fact. I got to know the area by doing a lot of cycling and from a period during which I used to distribute a community magazine. The places I know by their names are the nodes of some form of mental map, I guess, rather than the connectors. As part of my knowledge of each place, I also know where all the roads out of that place go to, so I can build a route as a series of hops between locations.

In the country the places themselves become important - this isn't just a change of scale, it's a different thought process
This is a completely different way of finding your way around. As a by-product, it suddenly dawned on me (after a lifetime of not having dawned on me) that the reason so many towns on the British mainland have a London Road is not because everyone wanted to name one of their streets after the beloved capital, but because it is (or was) the way you got to London by horse from there. Street names are mostly decorative these days - Acacia Avenue, or Widdrington Crescent (named after some glory-grabbing Victorian town councillor) - the idea that a road's name might commemorate the fact that it once had a useful function did not occur to me until I lived somewhere they had very few streets. Duh.

Entirely Separate Topic 

This afternoon we went for a walk on the farm - it was a very fine day - very pleasant. Near the cliffs at Tantallon we saw a raven. We know they are around, but very seldom see one. Apologies for the not-brilliant photo - this was on a mobile phone, and the bird was some distance away, but there is no mistake. Raven. South-east Scotland, April.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

French Refurb Project - The Freitag Battalion

What better use for a new flag than to stick it on a new unit? I am delighted to welcome The Freitag Battalion - much travelled, and very kindly painted by Jonathan - a very big help indeed with shifting the backlog, and excellently done too.

These are the first battalion of the 26eme Ligne, who will form part of Ferey's 3rd Divn of the Armee de Portugal of 1812. For the casting nerds, the rank and file here are Les Higgins figures from the 1970s, all stripped and recycled, and probably very pleased to find they are back on duty. As always with Higgins figures, it's a challenge to find compatible command - the officer in the second row and the porte aigle are Qualiticast, the colonel and the drummer are from Art Miniaturen and the officer at the back is by NapoleoN.

Many thanks to Jon - this is really very much appreciated, and they will make a fine addition to my army.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

French Refurb Project - More Homebrewed Flags

This morning I've been fiddling away with good old Paintshop Pro, making up flags for the new units which my Refurb Project will deliver. I'm quite excited for a number of reasons, but one in particular is that I had a Good Idea - it had to happen eventually.

I've had a problem for a few years in that the old-fashioned coated-on-one-side-only high quality print paper which I used for flags went out of production. When I asked about it, I just got blank looks - there had never been any such thing (a bit like the 20mm Hinchliffe Napoleonic artillery pieces, in fact). So I've been struggling a little since then with available papers. The advantage of the single-sided stuff (provided you put it the right way round in the printer, of course), is that you can get it thinner than the two-sided paper, and it is more flexible. This means it will produce nice curvy flags without creasing - when the PVA dries you have a splendid standard, fluttering in the breeze. [How lovely]

The Good Idea was that I remembered that I have a large envelope full of spare flags which I have printed in the past on this extinct paper, and these are mostly printed 2 flags to a sheet of A4, with the flags in diagonally opposite corners. I was shaving when it occurred to me that each of these sheets has a large unprinted space in the middle, so that all I have to do is overprint some of these old sheets with new flags in the centre of the page, and it will be just like 2011 once again.

You will understand my excitement.

So this morning's flags are ready to be printed and - just in case they are of any use to anyone - here they are. These are 1804 pattern flags, as you see, for units in the 3rd and 6th Divisions of the French Armee de Portugal in 1812, which comprise the planned extension to my army. For 1/72 (approx) I like my French infantry flags to be about 15 to 16mm high.

If you wish to use them, please do so. A couple of notes:

* Click on the image and save the big version.

* Experiment with the print scaling to suit your figures - I wouldn't recommend these for anything bigger than 1/72

* The individual flags in the image are only roughly lined up by eye, so I recommend you cut them out singly - don't try to cut a row at one go!

* If you pass them on, or become famous using them, that's no problem, but please mention where you got them. [Usual deal]

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

I hadn't realised that Blogger would restrict the file size for the flag sheet - if you want the bigger version, it's available at Google Drive via this link. Any problems with access or download, please leave a comment here or email.



Sunday, 14 April 2019

Hooptedoodle #331 - Zeno and the Comb-Over

Zeno of Elea is credited with being the originator of a number of famous paradoxes - of which Achilles and the Tortoise is probably the best known. I reckon Zeno was something of a one-trick pony - a lot of his repertoire was based around a single concept - the problem of visualising an infinite number of infinitesimal events. Once you've got the hang of that, his stuff is probably not worth spending much time on. At least not if you have as little imagination as I do.

 His Paradox of the Millet Seed may be described - and debunked - very briefly thus:

A single millet seed, when it falls, makes no sound; however, if you drop a ton of millet seed it will definitely make a noise. The implication is that a very large number of zeroes adds up to something greater than zero, which Zeno identified as obvious nonsense. Without getting into a philosophical discussion of infinity, this is flawed from the outset. When Zeno says that a single seed makes no sound, what he means is that we/he cannot hear it. There will be some disturbance of the air, even for one seed, so the point at issue becomes the threshold of human hearing, which, apart from anything else, varies from individual to individual. For example, you could drop a large iron bucket next to my mother and she would be unaware of it.

Achilles and the Tortoise is rather different, but again depends on the infinite divisibility of time and space. Achilles (who must have been a hustler) challenges a tortoise to a race, and gives the tortoise a start. By the time Achilles reaches the spot where the tortoise started, the tortoise will still be a small distance ahead. By the time Achilles has run this additional distance, the tortoise will still be slightly ahead. And so on - forever, says Zeno. Achilles will never catch him.

Where this puzzle falls down is that the infinite series of incremental distances during which Achilles fails to overtake the tortoise does not add up to the full race distance - it adds up to the point at which Achilles catches up with the tortoise. It does not require a celebrated ancient scholar to understand that there will be some point in the race at which Achilles catches up with his opponent, and that at all points before that he will not yet have caught him. After that, of course, Achilles disappears into the distance. The process of summing to infinity the decreasing steps only serves to mask what is obvious anyway, though it does raise the separate issue that Achilles would have to be careful to make sure that he didn't give the tortoise too much of a start, or philosophy as we know it would never recover.

A related, everyday paradox is that of the application of a simplified description to something which is really rather complicated. The example I have in mind is the concept of baldness. A man with no hair at all is obviously bald. A man with a lot of hair is not bald. A man with exactly one hair on his head is probably bald, but what about two hairs, three, 5374? - how many hairs does he require to stop being bald? The problem here is obviously one of terminology; "bald" is a rather crude on/off term - we really can't consider this seriously without some definitions and a lot of counting. For practical purposes, if someone describes someone else as bald, then they normally mean "the impression I got was that they didn't have much hair", which is not very precise but seems to serve for most everyday situations, without wasting too much time on the matter.

There are many such words - what is a "tall" person? Taller than average? Taller than me? Very unusually tall? There is a whiff of percentiles and survey data in there which is all a bit wearying, so we don't normally worry about it.



Enough. For today's post I only wish to consider the matter of baldness, so I guess we are in Zeno's millet seed country.

I visit my hairdresser every four or five weeks - five if it was cut very short last time. Normally a Thursday morning. My haircuts are quick and inexpensive, since I do not have much hair. Every time, we have the same discussion, as I glower in the mirror at the thinning section at the front - I ask her if she thinks it is yet time to get rid of that front bit. Not yet, she says - it is still hanging in there. If at any time I find that we are performing some trick to pretend that I have more hair than I really have then a klaxon will sound and we will stop and reconsider. Similarly, I have asked my wife to kill me if she ever finds me performing any kind of comb-over.

We'll be in touch
Reasons? Well, just personal baggage really. Mr Trump is a shining illustration of why we shouldn't do this, probably, but this train of thought is really triggered by the fact that today is the eleventh anniversary of my dad's death, and my memories of my dad are always dominated by the adventures to which he subjected us with his damned hair. If I must learn just one thing from my father, please let it be that.

Before anyone feels moved to offer condolences on this sad anniversary, please don't bother. My dad and I were never very close, unfortunately. He was a very clever man, but a very difficult, uncomfortable one. If it were possible to be given no capacity for empathy at all then he must have been close. With my dad, you could agree with him, and do what he said, or you could disagree with him, and fight about it, or you could do what I did, and move some hundreds of miles away, to get on with your own life. I don't feel bitter about any of this, by the way - everyone is different, everyone has to deal with things in his own way.

Eventually, of course, my parents became old and less able to cope, so they moved up to Scotland to be near me, which was the right thing to do, and I am happy to believe they enjoyed their last years up here together, and I certainly had to get involved in a lot of running around to help them, which is probably as it should be. My mum is still alive, and is now safely resident in a splendid little care home very close to my house, with which we are very pleased, but my dad's passing, though it was a shock at the time, meant mostly that my life suddenly became a lot more peaceful, and of course I got the opportunity to shuffle one more place up the queue for the Reaper.

Oh yes - the hair. When I was a little boy it became apparent that my dad was going bald. He must have been in his 20s. He had a bald patch on the crown of his head which he concealed by combing his hair over the patch, and keeping it in place with Brylcreem. All was revealed when he was sitting at the kitchen table, studying for his engineering exams - while his mind was elsewhere, he would wind a pencil into the long bits of hair, and tease them out to remarkable heights. Hey. My dad was baldy.

As the years passed, though most of this was out of my sight, this became more of a problem. By the time he moved up here, he must have had very little hair on top of his head, but he attempted to conceal this with the most complex edifice of hair from the edges. This was combed across from all directions - if you stood behind him, there was a strange horizontal parting above his neck, from which the hair headed upwards. These partings were all over the place, with hair heading in unnatural directions - the impression was that his cap probably screwed into place. He also was a devotee of Grecian 2000 dye - I don't know what shade he used, but the effect on his (presumably white) hair was of a vague nicotine stain - like pee-holes in the snow. And everything was cemented into place to combat the forces of gravity and weather with copious amounts of Harmony hairspray.

This progression does not seem to include my dad's shade
The cap was the life-saver, of course, but it took him ages to get ready to go anywhere, and he always had his comb with him.

What could go wrong?
On one occasion he had what was probably a mini-stroke - he fell into a flower-bed in his garden, and just disappeared. By the time the ambulance arrived he was indoors and sitting up and obviously recovering, but the ambulance could not leave until he had found his comb and arranged his hair. While they were waiting, the ambulance driver suggested to my mum that they might cut his hair in hospital, if only because of the impossibility of keeping it up to spec.

She, for the one and only time I ever heard, very quietly said, "Let's hope they cut it, and we can all get some bloody peace".

I'd never thought about it before, but she must have been required to help with this palaver. She must have washed and dyed his hair for decades - he certainly wouldn't have been able to do it all himself. She must also have cut it for him, since any self-respecting professional would just have refused. She was, in fact, an accomplice. Poor woman - presumably this was just to keep him happy.

I wonder what it was he thought he was doing? By this time, I guess it had just become a ritual (not unlike 50mm x 45mm MDF bases, I suppose), which had become somehow essential. Whom did he think he was fooling? What (to be blunt) did he think he looked like?

If my mother had been so inclined, or if he had had any friends (he didn't), then someone might have said, years earlier, that having a weird, nicotine-coloured pavlova on top of his head did not give the impression of hair, not to anyone, and that from the back, in fact, all this effort produced something not unlike a polar bear's arse. Not a worthwhile investment of time. Ridiculous. And all that combing and spraying while the world waited to go out for a walk was pointless.

Eventually, after a long and unusually healthy life, he started getting some angina problems. His medication was not very successful, he had periods of irregular pulse which were causing some alarm, and it was decided to take him into hospital in Edinburgh for tests. I was there when he left in the ambulance - once again there was something of a drama while he prepared his hair, but he was sitting up in the ambulance when he went.

The tests didn't go very well, and he was transferred to the Royal Infirmary, outside the south side of Edinburgh. While there he became ill, and then died, quickly and without much discomfort. All over. It was unexpected - a bit of a shock, to be sure.

The next morning I drove to the Royal Infirmary to sign the paperwork, and to collect my dad's possessions, which were in a couple of plastic carrier bags. His clothes, his spectacles, his shoes, his raincoat, his toilet bag, his cap, his wallet and the eternal comb. That seemed a bit weird - that's all you get back. I dropped the comb in the car park while I was stowing the bags, and I just put it in the litter bin. I was not going to waste any more time on that, thank you.

When my mum became too ill to live at home any more, I cleared her house. By this time my dad had been dead for nearly nine years, but his coiffure was still very much in evidence. All the armchairs and much of the bedding were stained with Grecian 2000 - very recognisable shade of Old Nicotine - and I found warehouse-sized cartons of Harmony aerosols in the cupboard in the spare room and in the attic.

And I bet he thought that no-one ever knew. Your secret is safe with us, Baldy.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Hooptedoodle #330 - The Anfield Iron

I'm not going to make a meal of this, I always find it very uncomfortable when there is scope for a "me too" tribute to former celebrities. So this is going to be a very simple "thank you" to a hero from my youth, a football player, no less, who in his prime was a central part of my lifelong club, my home-town team, in the years when, miraculously, unbelievably, they progressed from being the second best team in the city to become the undisputed top team in the country (a long time ago now!). Tommy Smith died today, peacefully, after a period of illness, aged 74.
Tommy Smith, Liverpool FC
Tommy was a local lad, a working class kid from an impoverished background, and his chief characteristic was that he was the toughest, dirtiest, most intimidating defender of his day. It was a personal misfortune of his that he was a contemporary of Norman Hunter of Leeds, who had a lot of the same qualities but was a superior footballer, so that poor old Tommy only ever got a single international cap for England.

No matter. He was a sporting hero from a bygone age. Nowadays, given the price of season tickets for the Premier League, fans are not really looking to see local kids playing for their team - they expect to see expensive Brazilians, Spaniards, Africans, Frenchmen, whatever. I suppose it's a bit like other expensive forms of entertainment; I confess that if I spent a lot of money to go to the opera, I'd be disappointed if the cast all came from the streets around my birthplace.

Tommy had serious injury problems toward the end of his career - latterly, he was often able to play only because he was stuffed full of cortisone injections, a practice which would probably have club management gaoled in these more enlightened times. As a result, he could hardly walk in his last few years.

Never mind - he will always be young for those who saw him in his pomp. He will always be the man who headed the goal which put Liverpool ahead in the final of the European Cup (Champions' League), in Rome in 1977, versus Moenchengladbach - the first year Liverpool won the competition.

Thanks, Tommy. Cheers, la.

Monday, 8 April 2019

For King & Parliament - Infrastructure Prototyping

I have made lamentably slow progress with my solo practice sessions for FK&P - one thing that has been holding me back [dodgy alibi] is the need for a practicable way to keep track of unit information in a simple but effective way, in keeping with my minimalist toy soldier style presentation, without burying the troops in counters.

This morning I have produced something which appears to fit the bill. My sincere thanks to Simon Miller and Gonsalvo for useful suggestions, and especially to Andrew Brentnall and The Jolly Broom Man for actual examples, which I have adapted (not to say stolen) to fit my basing systems.

I had a happy couple of hours fiddling around with MS Publisher, and I've set up a decent infantry template, which I can reproduce and amend quickly and easily. I ran off some trial sheets of info labels, laminated them and cut them to size. Here are the results to date.

Never happier than when fiddling about
Here are the first trial batch - these for some of my Parliamentarian foote. I'd have preferred to use matt plastic laminating pouches, but the glossy ones are better for allowing successful removal of white-board pen annotations. Note the little strip of white steel paper at the top of each label - these strips may need to be larger
Exciting picture of a flying base, showing how the little label attaches. My bases are all underlaid with magnetic sheet anyway, to allow them to live safely in their box files. The sliver of steel paper on the label allows it to attach underneath the base, without glue or anything messy
Here you go - volunteer demonstration by Richard Shuttleworth's RoF (of Blackburn Hundred) - these chaps were originally the Blackburn town Trained Band, and the yellow square on the right indicates that they are classed as "raw". Old Richard in his best crimson coat is proud of them anyway. The 17th Century font is a bit of an extravagance, since I will have to draw it to people's attention, but it is not inappropriate, since my laminating machine must date from approximately the same period
From the front, the new label is quite discreet
Thus far, this looks promising. If it works (or can be made to work) then I should be able to manage without any major investment in sabots, and the labels are cheap, easy to make and easily edited if I successfully keep the template samples handy. In today's trial, movement on the cork sheet (which might be grippier than the painted battle boards) suggests that the label tends to shift a bit in action. It won't come adrift, but it can get a bit - you know how it is - not quite straight [OCD alert]. I was hoping to be able to use the same size labels for the foote, the horse and the dismounted dragoon bases (which last are only half the depth), but I may have to change to bigger labels with bigger patches of steel paper.

I might buy some better quality laminating pouches - I'm down to a pack of Woolworth's own brand, which illustrates the house focus on economy and making things last. Better pouches will stick on the paper more firmly.

Work continues. There should be some pictures of actual test games once the record-keeping labels are working nicely.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Hooptedoodle #329 - The Ascent of Schlimm - Part (2) of an occasional series

The Grand Duke yawned, and as he did so he realised that he had actually dozed off for a moment. It was very warm in the room. He opened his eyes and jumped with fright - there, on the other side of his enormous desk, stood his Minister of Finance, young Edelbert Schlimm.

"What a fright you gave me, Schlimm! - I was pondering the matter of the floral theme for this year's Watchmakers' Guild Festival. I thought perhaps daffodils?"

"Highness, we did daffodils last year. In fact, I believe it has been daffodils every year for the last eleven festivals - something to do with avoiding the cost of repainting the floats."

"Ah yes - as I recall there was only one float involved last year, with the Schweinheim Children's Choir - what happened to the rest of the processional vehicles?"

"The festival has been downsized, Highness, since there are no longer any watchmakers and only 27 people attended the last one, including the parents of the choir."

"Yes - now I remember. All right - why don't we go for daffodils this year?"

"Excellent idea, Highness."

The Grand Duke stared at his Minister, musing over the remarkable change in his appearance in recent months. He was impeccably suited and groomed, his shirt and his shoes were hand-made, in his lapel he wore the scarlet and white silk ribbon of the Grand Knight's Cross of the Order of Sankt Tobias and - the Grand Duke winced to observe - he had a discreet diamond stud in his left ear. He was also surprisingly suntanned, considering it was only April and the fog and rain of what passed for Spring in the Duchy did not usually cause sunburn.

"Reminds me - I sent for you. Where have you been?"

"I'm sorry, Highness, I have been very busy."

The Grand Duke frowned.

"But I sent for you over a week ago, where have you been?"

Schlimm was impassive.

"Complicated - mostly I've been in Dubai, I think. Yes - mostly Dubai. What was it you wanted?"

"A number of things I was concerned about - if you hold on a moment, I have a written note here somewhere."

Pushing his reading glasses back up his nose with his index finger, the Grand Duke scrabbled around among the chaos on his desk for a few seconds, and produced a crumpled scrap of paper, which he smoothed out and studied for a little while.

"Right," he said, "for a start, who are all these foreigners wandering about the castle? They are frightening the kitchen staff, and last week a couple of them walked in here and started measuring things. Never said anything, just wrote down some notes and sketched drawings in an exercise book. I was trying to watch TV. Are they here to redecorate?"

"No, Highness - they are here in connection with the sale and lease-back agreement I told you about."

"You never told me any such thing, not that I remember - also these fellows don't speak any German - they're English, I think. What's going on?"

"I apologise, Highness, I was sure we had discussed the matter. The castle is far too big for the needs of your family; the idea is that we sell the place for redevelopment - you and the Ducal Family and your immediate entourage will live in a modern apartment in the West Wing, with a nice view across the swamp."

"But my family have lived here for many centuries, Schlimm - what is to happen to the place? - and what about all the paintings, and the furniture, and the collection of ceremonial armour, and the stuffed animals, and everything else? This is my personal history, our glorious heritage."

Schlimm bowed slightly.

"With respect, Highness, personal history is a luxury appropriate only to those who can afford it. I am expecting a report from the preliminary survey shortly, so we may discuss it then, if that suits you. The current suggestion is that the remainder of the castle buildings will be developed as luxury apartments. The architects are very interested in the paintings and the other artifacts - if there is anything they can't use they have offered to sell it for us on eBay. There are various ideas for the use of the Great Park - I am trying to retain a small garden for you and the Duchess. They may even stretch to a greenhouse."

The Grand Duke passed a shaking hand over his haggard face.

"A greenhouse? I remember none of this, Graf Edelbert. Have you mentioned it to the Duchess? Is she in favour of these plans?"

"The Duchess has been away skiing since before the discussions started, Highness - I had hoped you might raise the matter with her when she returns? There are also some interesting ideas involving the sale of her hunting lodges to an American hotel chain. The concept is that they would make very attractive health spas."

The Grand Duke removed his glasses and closed his eyes - he really did not feel well at all.

"Schlimm, I think I'm going to have to rest for a while. Before you leave, can I just mention the subject of beer?"

"Beer, Highness? - shall I get you a beer?"

"No, Schlimm, I just need you to explain something to me. Recently I suddenly fancied a beer - haven't had one for a while - and asked old Tauber to bring me a bottle of the Alter Drosselberger, my favourite. It was horrible - like horse urine. Also, the label was in English. I was so upset I rang a phone number which was printed on the label, and I got through to a helpdesk which I think was in India."

"Well, Highness, the Alter Drosselberger is selling very well, the brewing company is one of our more successful enterprises. I am sorry if you received a bad bottle."

"But we used to make the finest beer in Europe, one of the few things of which we could still be proud - it won international medals and everything. Good God, Schlimm, I own this brewery - my family has owned it since the 17th Century. I am going to visit the place and find out what's going on - I shall sort them out, you'll see - tradition still counts for something!"

Schlimm stared at his immaculate shoes, and aligned the crease in his Italian trousers.

"In fact, Highness, you are not strictly the owner of the brewing firm these days. You do retain a minority stake in the company, but you have only 15% of the voting shares. My brother and I have 80% between us. The actual Blickhof brewery is long gone - it is now a shopping mall and an indoor swimming pool and sports centre. The recipe for the beer was updated to cater for modern tastes, and the contract for production of the stuff is the subject of a tender every two years. Recently there has been a change - for a while the beer was being made and bottled in Burton on Trent, but it has now moved to a firm in Turda, Romania. No doubt it will move again if we get a more competitive offer."

There was a silence. The Grand Duke sat with his eyes closed for a while, and Schlimm was beginning to wonder if he had fallen asleep again when he eventually spoke, slowly and without any discernible emotion.

"I really do not understand. The fact that we made the best beer in Europe was crucially important - it was a source of national pride, and it was a noble tradition. This is not just a matter of revenue or earnings yields, it is a question of self-respect, and of ethics. If we can get our beer made more cheaply elsewhere, so that you and your brother make even more money, then I congratulate you, but I think you have missed the point. If I phone up to complain about the horse urine beer, I speak to a man in India and we cannot understand each other. That sums up exactly how much we have come to care about our customers and our traditions. I am appalled."

Schlimm smiled condescendingly, but the old man did not see him because his eyes were still shut.

"Your ideas, Highness, are as traditional and as outmoded as is much else about the Duchy and the way it runs. 'Pride in our product' is a very old-fashioned philosophy. Nowadays commercial ventures exist only to make as much money as possible for their owners. That is their primary - arguably their only - function. If our beer really tastes like horse urine then we will sell less of it, and we will make less money - that's when we know we have to do something about it. That is how it works nowadays. Your ideas of quality and pride are worthy and they do you credit, but, like the dinosaurs, they are things of the past. If you can get no help from our helpdesk number, then you should be delighted that you are dealing with a company which wastes as little money as possible on such matters..."

He broke off here, his voice ending on something of a squeak, because the Grand Duke had taken an old army revolver from his desk drawer, and was very deliberately taking aim at him.

The redevelopers are here