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

Monday 25 November 2019

English Safari (wet) - Small Game Hunting

Rain in Lincolnshire - just like my last day
I was away for most of last week. I had private business in Lincolnshire, and I combined the trip with a visit to Essex, where I obtained some old soldiers, of which more in a moment.

I travelled in my van, which is actually quite a friendly sort of vehicle - high seating position (and thus a great view), surprisingly comfortable, and it allows me to stooge along steadily, without anyone feeling obliged to cut me up or out-drag me at the traffic lights. As the time approached for my journey, I had been watching the weather forecasts nervously, but my trek down was all in bright sunshine - no problems at all.

In Essex I had the great pleasure of actually meeting DC - he of the Wargaming Odyssey blog. David and I have been on email terms for some years, and have even spoken on the steam telephone, but the old face-to-face bit was a new departure. David was just as jovial and enthusiastic in person as I had expected, and I must express my deep appreciation for his time and for his looking after me during my visit. We had a lot of interesting conversations during my day-and-a-bit in Essex - I got to see his famed man-cave, which is indeed a great honour, and I learned a lot about wargaming. Excellent all round.

Oh yes - the soldiers. I can't really say an awful lot about them at the moment, not least because I am still finding out the details of what I obtained. I bought a load of very old Napoleonic figures, many of which, I understand, were involved in the 1965 "refight" of Waterloo, at the Duke of York's Headquarters. The first job I have (and it's a big one) is to sort them into types, makes and units - they have been stored in some very dilapidated old boxes for a great many years, and have got a bit mixed up as the current owner (and DC) worked on identifying and listing what was there.

After two pretty solid days of effort, I am starting to get the idea of what is here. Some of these can probably be freshened up and rebased, and could be available for active service fairly quickly - some may require rather more work, and some may just go in the spares box for a while, but Goya has been talking of having a bash at Waterloo sometime soon - these should certainly help to fill some gaps!

I'll leave it at that for now, with some photos showing the inevitable chaos which is involved in opening up the boxes and trying to sort things out. I must say that I would like to know a lot more about the 1965 Waterloo game - I'm trying to get some extra information about that. If anyone knows of any write-ups, or has any personal knowledge of the event, I'd be very grateful if you could get in touch. I can certainly state that Hinton Hunt castings from circa 1965 appear to be cleaner and nicer than any I have seen. There are also some very early (small) Lammings, and a number of figures I have never seen before - no idea of the manufacturers - I may put up some more photos later on.

This is the mess in the dining room starting to abate a little - some of the figures are already sorted into boxes, and I have trays and all sorts of containers on all horizontal surfaces
This looks like French foot artillery in the warm water bath, soaking the bases off

Various Guard artillery figures, foot dragoons, miscellaneous generals and staff
Another tray - assorted cavalry - including enough cuirassiers for a very serious charge indeed
This looks like a heap of French line infantry to me...
Dragoons of different nationalities, RHG, Guard sapeurs...
Some highlanders in this lot...
A good number of lancers for Waterloo, including some Alberken Eclaireurs I haven't seen before, plus yet more riflemen - and so it continues. I'll be working on this for a couple of days yet - I've ordered in some more Really Useful Boxes - 4 litre size!
On my return journey I stopped again in Lincolnshire, where, by a complete fluke, my landlord (who knows nothing at all of these matters) recalled seeing a film clip of the 1965 Waterloo game on the Blue Peter TV programme (for kids). I can't find anything on Pathe News or anything, but I'm still looking. On my last day, Saturday, my luck ran out with the weather, and I drove for about 6 hours in a monsoon. No problems. The van just quietly got on with the job, and I was home in time for tea.

A very serious plaque to commemorate the fact that Thomas Paine was very briefly associated with Alford. I am hoping that there will be a plaque one day to say that I had my dinner in the Half Moon Hotel one evening.
Mind you, one of the Alford street names suggests that they may be familiar with my blog already
Yes - this is a picture of Margaret Thatcher, which is a first for me. The event was the opening of the M25, one of my least favourite stretches of highway in Britain. I have a theory - next time you are stuck in a nightmare on the M25, listen carefully - I bet you she is laughing somewhere

Friday 15 November 2019

Hooptedoodle #350 - Strategy for Catching a Bus

This morning I was half-listening to the radio, and there was a phone-in discussion going on about people's private rituals - things they do every day as part of their lives, in that strange cross-over area where planning and commonsense checks start to shade into superstition and even obsession.

There were a lot of predictable items - one guy plays football in his local Sunday league - he always bends down to touch the grass as he walks on to the pitch - this is because his team once had an unexpected win in some competition or other, and since then he has come to believe that if he fails to touch the grass as he walks on then things might work out badly. In other words:

(1) it's become something he does on a regular basis

(2) it might do some good - OK, maybe unlikely, but it does no harm, so the safe bet might be to carry on doing it.

We probably all have a few of these wrinkles, though we might choose to claim that there is some rather more straightforward explanation. I always carry my penknife and a couple of guitar picks in my left-hand trouser pocket. I know where to find them, I can tell straight away if I've forgotten to pick them up from the tray on the bedroom chest of drawers - it's OK - it's a habit, but it's conscious organisation. You bet.

I knew a fellow years ago who played soccer to a decent amateur standard, and he always used to wear his "lucky" vest under his team jersey. He would claim that he was not superstitious, but panic would arise if he found his mother had this vest in the wash on match-day. The vest, by the way, was a total wreck, he had been wearing it since school. It was a relic.

When I was a kid, my dad, when he closed the front door, would tug the lock 10 times to check it was locked. If anything interrupted this procedure, he would start again. One morning (to my ecstatic, though secret, delight) he broke the lock. He would have maintained that he was checking the lock was secure, to keep his family and his possessions safe. Other opinions did exist.

Anyway, to the point. I was reminded this morning of a little conundrum that bothered me for years - not because it was a problem, but because it seemed there was an obvious need for some sort of simple strategy and - though you would think that such things were capable of numerical analysis, I never really managed to think it through.

Let's go back to the 1980s. At this time I lived in Morningside, a suburban district on the south side of Edinburgh, and I worked for a financial institution, whose offices were bang in the business centre - near St Andrew Square.

Each working day I would set off from home on my walk to the bus stop. It was about a mile to the bus stop - for the last half mile of this walk I had a straight view down to the main road ahead, crossing at right angles, where the buses I needed would pass from right to left.

These days the Edinburgh buses are a different proposition altogether - they have computer displays at each stop, which show you which buses, for which routes, are coming, and when they will be there. Everything is monitored. In the 1980s, the best I could do was to have a copy of the timetable on the notice board in the kitchen - I knew the times by heart, of course.

The problem was this last half-mile, during which I could see the bus route in the distance.  Now - a quick ponder on the nature of bus travel:

Suppose the buses ran every 15 minutes at this time of the day - officially, there might be a bus from my stop at 7:30am, 7:45am etc. Now, the traffic was heavy on working days, and the buses did not run on time - this was not any kind of symmetrical distribution - since the drivers got into trouble if they were early (because passengers would miss the bus), the buses would tend to be late. If I left home at 7:05, say, and it took me 20 minutes to walk to the stop, I would arrive five minutes before the 7:30 was due. Thus I might catch the previous bus, if it were running late, I might even, on rare occasions, be in time for the bus before that one, if it was very late indeed. Failing this, I should be in time for the published 7:30, though it could really turn up at any time after 7:30. The safest approach was to just assume that there was an irregular stream of buses, and that their arrival was pretty much random.

Right. So about 10 minutes after leaving the house I would get to the point on my walk where I could now see the buses passing, in the distance, and I would be able to see them from that point on. If a bus passed, I might be able to hazard a guess what official time that bus was supposed to have arrived, but it was not a particularly useful thing to think about during the final ten minutes' trek to the stop.

When I was still half a mile from the stop, if a bus passed, up ahead, then I would just shrug it off - it wasn't a bus I should have been on, the behaviour of subsequent buses was not affected in any predictable way. As I got nearer and nearer to the bus stop, this started to get more pressing; if a bus passed when I was, say, a hundred yards short of the stop then that would be a bit irritating, since a quick dash would have enabled me to catch that one. So the passage of buses at the end of the road became more important as I got nearer to the stop. Obviously, if a dash of a hundred yards would help, I could do this dash at any point during the walk, but that's not the instinct. What the dash might protect me from was not so much the risk of being late (since I should have plenty of time to get to work, and since getting earlier to the stop would simply put me into an unknown (earlier) bit of the sequence) - what I was protecting myself from was the frustration of having missed a bus when it was within my power to do something about it. This last bit is important.

Of course, I could just leave earlier, but that doesn't really change the unpredictability, or I could run the entire mile, which is not ideal if you are wearing a suit and office shoes, and maybe a top-coat, and maybe carrying a case - especially if you are going to spend a bus-ride jammed onto the lower deck - standing room only.

In practice, every day I would jog the last quarter mile - I felt better that way. Then, if I just missed a bus, I would feel that I had tried. I never jogged any previous quarter mile on the way there, because at that distance it doesn't seem like the correct thing to do.

None of this was ever really a problem - I can't recall ever being late for work. What bugged me was the suspicion that deciding to jog, every day, at the point where panic was beginning to set in felt a bit like dumb behaviour. There is a mathematical problem in which a man cuts diagonally across a square field, and a bull in the field charges at him from one of the other corners - it always heads straight towards him. The problem is to identify an equation for the path of the bull, and identify the limiting conditions, but the important, inescapable truth is that the bull is so damned stupid that it fails to realise it can catch the man by taking a short cut - taking a straight line to head him off rather than always just running directly at him.

I always had a feeling that I should have had an advantage over the bull, but it didn't feel like it.

Thursday 14 November 2019

Vauban's Bits - Painted

The new paint tins have safely arrived, so I painted the new 3D-printed barracks building this afternoon. Pleased with it. When I have a few more bits and pieces ready, I'll try to put together a picture involving more substantial pieces of fort.

With the barracks sitting above the archway, from outside the fort

And from inside the fort - the building itself has a choice of two ground floors - with and without  the archway
The scale mismatch doesn't suit everyone, but this is my gaming scale system - 1/72 scale officer of engineers standing on the 1/100 scale buildings. I've got used to it, and there are some useful advantages

And this is the alternative configuration, with the archway not running under the barrack block

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Vauban's Bits

Graham, of the Scotia Albion blog, very kindly sent me some 3D-printed bits to add to my store of equipment for my siege wargames. These have been specially scaled to fit with my old (and OOP) Terrain Warehouse Vauban fort, which has always been short of a few bits and pieces - the manufacturers gave up on this range before it was complete, and subsequently were bought over by another firm whose interests lay elsewhere.

He has sent me a selection of pieces, all very interesting and thought-provoking. The most obvious show-stopper is a fine gatehouse/barracks building - this comes with some extra pieces, to provide a few alternate configurations, so that it can be a barracks and not a gatehouse. The photos are of the gatehouse set-up.

I still have to clean up the printed pieces a bit, and I was hoping to get some paint on quickly, so I could knock everyone (someone? - anyone?...) dead with pictures of the finished kit, but alas, a number of my "scenery" paint pots have set solid. I went to my local hardware store to get in some fresh paint today - got a few of them replaced (I use Dulux colour-matching sample tins), but the base colour for the brown shades was out of stock, so my two tins of Rum Caramel (shades #1 and #2) should be available tomorrow or maybe Thursday. That's fine, but since that is the undercoat colour I can't do any painting until I get them. Watch this space.

Thanks again, Graham.

Thursday 7 November 2019

Battle of La Rothiere - 1st Feb 1814

Yesterday was a fighting day, up at Kinross. There were four of us involved - the Archduke was travelling from Westmorland, Baron Stryker was arriving from much closer at hand, in his campaigning sedan chair, I was coming from south of the Forth, and the day's events were scheduled to take place at the legendary Schloss Goya, where the Count did a magnificent job of preparing and planning the game, preparing a very fine luncheon and (whisper it) even serving up lemon cake with afternoon tea.

The battle was a big 'un, no disputing that fact, the scenario lifted from the website. Here is the scenario diagram - we used my Ramekin variant of C&CN - 8 Victory Points for the win.

We each contributed some of the troops. Stryker lost the toss of a coin and thus had to partner me in command of the French. A quick squint at the situation, along with the events of actual history, suggested that we were about to receive a thrashing.

Some of the Russian troops in action were very scary indeed - the Guard Grenadiers are very powerful, and the most formidable of the lot were their Guard Heavy Cavalry, who are 6 blocks strong, get a bonus of +1 die in combat and may disregard 2 retreat flags. Oh, jolly good. I was very pleased to see they were well back in the rear of the Allied reserve at the start - I had visions of their casually touring the battlefield, mopping up our army. The rules also bestow upon the Russian infantry a most unsporting reluctance to run away when pressed, and the final outrage is the Mother Russia die before the battle starts - on the day, this provided an extra block of strength for two of the Russian infantry regiments, and also an extra block for both of their field batteries. This did not seem like good news - since I had no idea how an extra-large battery is allocated combat dice in C&CN, we had to agree an ad-hoc rule for the day to cover this. Whatever, the Russian artillery was a major nuisance throughout the day.

It seemed very odd that the Bavarians present were, of course, not on the French side. The French had some Guard Cavalry, and some Young Guard infantry, but it was decreed that, this being 1814, the quality of the French line infantry did not merit the usual +1 combat die for elan in melee.

We (the French) assumed that the Bavarians would be sent across the stream into our left flank, so we set up to give them a hot reception. In fact they didn't attack us at all, so that was an effective feint! The VP rules for this scenario are fairly complex, but include extra points for possession of the 4 villages of La Giberie, Petit-Mesnil, La Rothiere itself (with the church) and Dienville. We duly defended these four villages, but things did not go very well at the start, the Russians drove us out of La Rothiere and eliminated one of our two field batteries. Thereafter the theme of the day was fighting for the villages, and trying to stay clear of the big Russian batteries. There was a good deal of cavalry fighting as the day developed. We started rather poorly, but as time went on we started to wear down the Russian infantry, and we got the VP score to 7-each. At this point we only (only!) had to push one of our Young Guard units across the stream on our left flank, and attack a wood containing a much-weakened Bavarian regiment (and, preferably, take out Wrede at the same time). This was such a vivid prospect that we could actually see it happening, but it was vital that we won the initiative for the next turn.

We duly won that initiative, and in a state of some excitement we attacked tthe Bavarian-held wood, but the attack failed completely, and the response was conclusive. Around this time, the Russian Guard Grenadiers eliminated one more French unit, and during that same turn we were driven out of two more of the key villages, so that, instead of sneaking a victory 8-7 (which would have been a travesty, to be honest), we actually lost - within a single turn - by 9-4. Hmmm. From the jaws of you-know-what.

Not to worry - great game - historically correct result, and it was exciting throughout. Questions will certainly be asked about the performance of the French artillery, but we are confident that (authentically) Napoleon will just lie through his teeth about the outcome, and publish appropriate Fake News in his dispatches.

My appreciation and very best wishes to my colleagues, and especially to Count Goya for his tireless hospitality. Excellent day!
View from behind the French right at the start, with the River Aube (unfordable) in the foreground, the key villages all defended. You can just see the Bavarian-Austrian force threatening our left flank at the far end of the table, beyond the stream.
Looking along the Russian line, from their left
Russians advancing on their left - this attack didn't develop as much as we expected, but it kept us worried throughout. You can see the pesky "Mother Russia" super-size batteries on the ridge in the background.
The French are quickly driven out of La Rothiere, and one of the French batteries has been overrun and eliminated. That's General Gerard (white border) attempting to convince his men that they should try to take the place back.
This is just a more expansive view of the same moment, I think (apologies for duff photos)
Over on the Allied right, you can see the Bavarians pretending that they might cross the stream and do something, but they sat it out, while we kept a very warlike eye on them
A general view - you can see the gap in the middle, between the armies, caused by the lack of a French answer to the artillery problem. Russians marching forward relentlessly.
The French are running out of infantry at this stage
Time for some volunteers to win the day...
Here we go - Stryker's Young Guard battalion, about to cross the stream and set about those Bavarians - at least they are thinking about it
First of all, they had to cope with an attack from an Austrian hussar unit - we did pretty well - the YG refused to form square, and convinced the hussars that they should take a Retire and Reform option. Good - not immortal yet, but working on it.
Meanwhile, my own Young Guard battalion took back La Rothiere - they didn't keep it for long, but we were starting to win back a few VPs at this stage

The Russians still have a lot of troops, and many of them are fresh. Note that the village of La Rothiere (with church) is now occupied by the Russian Guard Grenadiers - no-one was in any great hurry to take them on, so there they stayed.
Stryker's YG chaps lasted hardly any longer than mine - having failed to shift the Bavarians out of the wood, they were surrounded and eliminated. The game was over shortly afterwards. I hope that Stryker will be able to put a more positive spin on his blog report on this game! L'Empereur is depending on him.

Saturday 2 November 2019

Hooptedoodle #349 - Donkey Award - Aviva

My mother (courtesy of my address) received a letter from Aviva Insurance last week. She has a whole-of-life assurance policy still in force - this policy was issued (I think as a contribution towards funeral costs) many years ago by Sun Life, whose business was absorbed by a succession of larger dinosaurs over the years, the current incumbent being Aviva.

The letter explained that this policy was to become free (i.e. no more premiums) since she is now 95, and that the cash-in surrender value would now be equal to the value on death. This is the same procedure we recently went through with Prudential - eventually these old "industrial" policies cost more to keep in force than they are worth to the insurer, so this is pretty much standard practice - except that the shut-off age is usually 90. My mother is currently paying £5.95 a month for this policy - at a rough estimate, she has paid about two-and-a-half times the death value in premiums over the years, but no matter - she is lucky to have lived this long.

I rang the customer help desk number given in the letter, and spoke to a very helpful chap who accepted that my mother was not well enough or aware enough to be able to write, nor speak on the phone, and that I had Power of Attorney (PoA) for her affairs (though I am not registered as such with Aviva). He also suggested that surrendering the policy now would be a smart move, since my mother's potential funeral costs are trivial compared to the cost of her care while she lives - and we agreed that I would send in my PoA documentation by registered mail, so that we may proceed with the surrender.

It cost me some £4.55 for a small parcel, to be signed for on receipt, and the PoA stuff went off to them with a covering letter and photocopies of the policy and their original letter. This morning the paperwork came back, with a letter (a standard letter with customer details inserted) which explains that the PoA material is not acceptable, for a whole pile of reasons - basically that the document must be either a signed approved copy or else the original.

Naturally one has to do these things correctly, but I'm well practised in this stuff - the Certificate of Registration I sent is a signed, approved copy and the PoA documents are originals - on the official OPG embossed paper. I believe it is completely legal - it has previously been accepted by HM Revenue and Customers, the State Pensions Department, two separate private pension funds of which my mother is a member, Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland, Trustee Savings Bank, Santander, National Savings and Investment, Prudential, East Lothian Council, and all manner of traders and utility suppliers my mother previously had accounts with. These documents have toured the UK over the last 10 years, at some expense.

What, you may ask yourself, is special about Aviva?

My irate descriptions of the company this morning may have included some potentially unusual elements - I fear I rather offended the Contesse with my views. I shall phone them on Monday, after my blood pressure medication, and see what we should do next. I am reluctant to send the documents again. The policy, I must add, is only worth some hundreds of pounds, so, since it will eventually become payable when my mother passes away I am tempted to forget about surrendering the policy. I'll try to phone them on Monday - see how it goes.

I suspect there is nothing very special about Aviva. I think it is likely that some dogsbody in Legal Life Services (so it says) saw the unmissable opportunity to get out of doing something by throwing the carrot back into the customer's court and - maybe? - to spoil someone's day while they were at it. I shall shrug this off. If Monday doesn't go well then I'll just forget the surrender offer - I'll check that the premiums stop, you bet. I'll write myself a note about what has happened, and dig the policy out when my mum dies.

If there was ever any remote chance of my ever doing business again with Aviva (after the house insurance pantomime...) then I guess it just vanished.