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

Saturday 25 January 2020

Hooptedoodle #353 - Plastic Rot revisited

Topic 1 - Plastic Rot
There has always been plastic during my lifetime. 40-year-old kids' toys, Bic pen caps and trash out of Christmas crackers were the sort of things you found down the back of the sofa when you were looking for lost money, TV remotes, passport etc - I am sure that one day archaeologists will dig up a complete layer of plastic that defines our civilisation. Yet something has changed - about 10 years ago I bought  a small (but very handy) mp3 player which somehow deteriorated - it became sticky and disgusting, and eventually I threw it away. Over recent years, between us, my family have had loads of plastic hairbrushes, each of which lasted about a year before it became sticky and unuseable. I had a rather expensive pair of noise-cancelling headphones I bought in the USA - one day they turned sticky and then they broke. There have been other incidents - as it happens, all these items were black - a matt-finish material. A couple of cheapish travel alarms did this and (infuriatingly) the plastic parts of my current Pure pocket DAB radio are showing signs of doing the same thing - same problem - matt-black, rubbery plastic becomes sticky and unpleasant to touch.

Most serious of all, my wife's sunglasses - the ones she likes for driving - have started to go the same way. The frames are quite heavy - dark brown plastic - she bought them from Boots about 2 years ago for £60 or so. Sticky - if you wash them in soapy water it helps a little, but the stickiness comes back again.

What's going on here?

Have plastics changed? Are they now made from some cheaper or more environmentally friendly ingredients, which have a limited life? Are plastics now required to be biodegradable in some way?

I have always just assumed that plastic was forever - a belief which was shaken in the past by

(1) disintegrating 35-year-old Airfix soldiers - aargh!

It was the grey plastic ones that caused me grief
(2) a horrifying adventure with a vintage guitar I owned - this was a 1948 Gibson ES150 - the post-war version of the old Charlie Christian model. I got it cleaned up and restored, and it was a lovely old thing, but the original pick-guard (scratch plate) was made of bakelite - an ancient organic plastic made from resin and bone dust. This plate began to decompose, and it gave off fumes which would corrode steel (strings, for example) - it took me a while to work out what was happening, then I got a luthier to make me a replica plate out of modern plastic. Bakelite - occasionally I see antique radios or domestic items made of the stuff advertised for sale - don't touch them. Toxic.

Topic 2 - Jury Service Citation

Today got off to a bad start. I got a phone call about 9am from the care home where my mother lives. This is not likely to calm my nerves first thing in the morning, so I steeled myself for some bad news. In fact it was a fairly mundane call - my mum has been sent a citation to appear for jury service at the Edinburgh High Court in March. The home has obviously completed an Electoral Roll return for all their residents. They cannot deal with the citation themselves, since they have no power of attorney or authority to act on my mother's behalf, so would I please look after it.

Well yes, of course. The court office is closed over the weekend, but I'll contact them on Monday. It is famously difficult to get exempted jury duty, but anyone over 71 may choose to be excused. My mum is 94 now, and badly afflicted with dementia, so getting her excused should be straightforward. I fear that I may have to send a written request, which may require me first to submit the original documentation for my Power of Attorney, which is a hassle - mainly because of the eternal risk of the stuff getting lost in someone's in-basket. That sounds like an addition to Monday's do-list, so no worries there.

It also occurs to me that I could just ignore the citation, in which case we could have a brief moment of fame when they attempt to prosecute her for non-appearance (the Sunday Post would love such a story), or - better still - send her along to the court for jury service. That would be interesting.

No - on reflection, I'll phone up on Monday and see what we do next. Ho-hum.

Wednesday 22 January 2020

WSS Project - Some Bavarian Heavy Cavalry

More units smartened up and re-based - here are the Cuirassier regiments Arco (front, blue facings) and Weichel (rear, red). The 20mm figures are all 1970s Les Higgins castings, with a few additions from Old John, who still markets these old figures. Building up the armies continues - next up is to prepare missing mounted colonels for a bunch of infantry units, then the Bavarian artillery, then the dismounted companies for 3 dragoon regiments, then I shall continue to crack on with the infantry and cavalry (of which there is a lot).

It's not quick, but it's going nicely - first objective is to build a couple of approximately equal armies, so I can get on with playtesting. Watch this space...

Thursday 16 January 2020

Eckau from Long Ago

So good we lost it twice.

Yesterday was a fighting day - we were re-playing the Battle of Eckau (July 1812),  of which I confess I had never heard before. The real battle has two alternative dates, depending on whose calendar you use - it was fought between Prussian and Russian forces at and around the small town of Gross Eckau (modern Iecava, in Latvia) - the Prussians, of course, were temporarily working as part of Marshal MacDonald's X Corps.

The real battle was fairly small (by our usual standards), and was won by the (real) Prussians. Yesterday's version was hosted by Count Goya, at his castle up in the remote Arctic, so Stryker and I arrived to do our bit to make a mockery of history.

The soldiers were all from Goya's collection, and he had set up the scenario so that we had something like a 1:1 representation of units present.

Goya's sketch map - North at the top (no Gregorian compasses)
The Order of Battle for the game was

8 battalions, each of 3 blocks
1 light cavalry regiment of 4 blocks
1 dragoon regiment of 4 blocks
2 foot artillery batteries
3 leaders

Prussians were split into 2 brigades - one on the east, one in the south west.
The east brigade consisted of:
3 line battalions, each of 4 blocks
1 light battalion of 4 blocks
1 light cavalry regiment of 3 blocks
1 horse artillery battery
1 leader

The south-west brigade was:
3 line battalions
1 dragoon regiment of 3 blocks
2 foot artillery batteries
2 leaders

Since this game does not lend itself well to a left-centre-right command system, we used the Ramekin variant of Commands & Colors:Napoleonics, which employs a dice-based activation system. We did not use the C&C Tactician cards. Stryker  took command of the Prussian "south-west" brigade, I controlled the "east" brigade, and Goya had the Russians.

The river was fordable at all points, troops in the water had the usual combat disadvantages. The victory target was 6 banners. No objective-based banners.

Stryker and I decided we would avoid the built-up areas as far as possible - the problem with Russian line infantry, you see, is that, though their units are fairly small, they are able to ignore 1 retreat flag (unquestioning valour or something), which makes them a formidable proposition in a town. Since the retreat flag exemption greatly reduced our chances of frightening them out of any of the bits of the town, we most certainly did not feel very optimistic about simply shooting them out of the place. Thus the grand master plan was that we would mostly ignore the town - I would steam down the road from the east with my brigade, to the north of the buildings, opposing the Russians' left flank, and Stryker would nip smartly across the fordable river, and take them from the other side. We envisaged a mighty meeting in the middle, like a meat grinder. We were also nervously aware, of course, that the scenario plan of splitting our force into two bits, with the looping flank attack from the East, immediately gave our opponents the central position which Napoleon would have recognised as the place to be. 

The meat grinder, alas, did not come to pass - my East Brigade was stopped and decimated disappointingly quickly, leaving my general helping out with a surviving horse battery, and Stryker never got across the river, so we lost very convincingly, and quite quickly, 6-1 on Victory Points. The Russian boys in the town were undisturbed, happily making turnip broth.

Russians in the town, very comfortable, thank you - we are looking north here
From the East, you can just see my brigade starting their march to glory - Stryker's brigade is just visible in the far left corner
There they are - just starting to march on to the corner - all they have to do is keep left and then cross the river
While my boys from the East are cracking on nicely
Here's a view from the south-west, with Brigade Stryker preparing to leap the River Iecava (not too chilly in July)
It didn't go very well at all - this is a (Warrior) Prussian battery, which was about my most effective unit
Back to the south-west, you see that Stryker has got nowhere near the river yet, while in the distance two of my battalions have taken so much damage from artillery that I can't do much more with them, my cavalry has vanished like snowballs in Hades, and another of my battalions is cut off on the hills and in serious trouble
Here they are, in fact, about  to be eliminated - miraculously, the general commanding survived and went to join the artillery battery
Yes - that's right - Stryker still can't get over the river - hmmm - maybe the town would have been easier...
General view from the East - the units with all the red counters are just standing watching - their orders are to avoid becoming more Victory Banners - if you have exceptional eyesight, you may spot a single white counter over in the far left corner - that is our one and only VB. By this point we had lost 6-1
The game ended quite early, so in the afternoon we tried it again. Same line up - the only changes to the scenario rules were that we reduced the Russian allocation of order chips each move (since in the morning they had had far more than they needed) and we allowed the Prussians three Iron Will counters, which allow an emergency cancellation of a Retreat Flag if all else fails. 

This time, the Prussians went for Plan B, which was to arrange for the East Brigade to get back over the river to the southern bank, join up with the South-West chaps, and attack the village in the approved manner. We actually gained just a little success this way, but not enough - we lost again, though this time the score was 6-3. You may decide for yourself if this is a worthwhile improvement. 

Righto - Take Two - Goya fishing in his Ramekin pot, looking for order chips
Some of Stryker's boys very quickly captured the southern-most part of the town. Gott in Himmel!
And my eastern chaps are splashing over the river to join in the fun. The two units with the blue order chips are about to be sent in against the nearest bit of the village (the Manor House, apparently) - the intention was that support would be arranged by the horse battery (currently in the river), but it didn't work out - not enough orders, and the horse artillery is disappointingly lightweight for bombarding towns.
Defeated again - this time by 6-3, but certainly defeated. Stryker's brave attack has run out of men, and further up the table you can see that my own attack on the built-up area just fizzled out
Excellent day - great lunch, good chat and a nice, interesting game. Many thanks to Goya, and compliments on the game design. Smaller armies gave a refreshing break from serried ranks of shoulder-to-shoulder. At the end, the Prussians had rather more space available than we needed. Things to note:

Russians are tough boys to flush out of a town.

Their artillery is very serious indeed.

I think we were using Russian dice.

Thursday 9 January 2020

WSS Project - Figure Suppliers

Tonight I hope to finish off the current period of painting and re-basing, and then I'll spend a week or so trying to catch up on the small matter of flags. By tonight I should have completed a third and a fourth unit of cuirassiers for my 1702 Austrians. There's plenty more refurb work to be getting on with, but I'll take a bit of a break.

I cannot promise I have a completely firm idea of how these WSS armies may progress from this point, but there are a couple of basic principles I'd like to stick with if it's at all possible.

(1) The whole reason for buying these figures was that they provided an attractive shortcut into a period of which I have no experience. I intend to keep them "as-is" as far as possible - with just a modicum of touching-up where necessary. This is partly sheer laziness on my part (consciously so, since left to my own instincts I would have everything stripped back to start again, and I don't have the time or the energy for this) and partly a matter of respect - a wish to keep Eric's old soldiers in some recognisable form. It seems only right.

(2) I am determined (and if I succeed it will be the first time ever) to keep some idea of constant scale - I always tend to drift off into some kind of scale creep as I build armies, having convinced myself that 20mm = 25mm, or some such nonsense, and I always regret it later.

In pursuit of End (2), I have been checking out the availability of suitable extra figures. My units will be rather smaller than the original organisation, so - proportionately - I'll need extra command figures. The armies consist entirely of 1970s 20mm Les Higgins figures - and these are pretty small 20mm, too. I can get extra figures from Old John, including conversions and extensions to the original Higgins/PMD catalogue which he has produced, but in the interests of variety I have been looking to see what else will fit with them. After going through everything I could think of, the only makers I am left with are Irregular Miniatures (which are just a tad small, to be honest, but are OK if I mount them on Higgins horses), and Lancer Miniatures (which are OK for height, and have a bit of character about  them, but they are FAT, man - this is the Front Rank of the 20mm world).

On the Lancer front, I think they will probably be OK for isolated figures like staff groups (let us assume that the nobility were obese, then), and possibly odd cavalry command chaps, but generally they are less of a good match than I had hoped - also their horses are crude. I have to say that the cannons and carts look very nice - I'll probably make use of some of them.

A third unit of Austrian cuirassiers - these chaps are the regiment Jung-Darmstadt - the flag is in the pipeline; the odd man out is the trumpeter in the tricorne, who is an Irregular man on a Les Higgins horse. Yes, all right - he's a small man, but he's OK

This is the command base for the fourth regiment - Alt-Hannover. Once again, the flag is coming soon. The trumpeter is one of John's conversions of Les Higgins, the other two are Fat Lancers - not sure about them at all. They are quite nice, if you are into Noggin the Nog
Separate topic: I am disappointed to note I am having problems with metallic paints again. This is a recurrent theme for me - I have a long tradition of getting annoyed with metallic paints which won't cover, or don't shine, or lift when subjected to varnish, etc etc. I have the Foundry metallic paints, and have found them to be a bit feeble - I've tried all sorts of Vallejo and Tamiya and Revell and Testor paints. I used Citadel for a while - they were OK, though the pots went "off" rather quickly. For the last few years I've been using Humbrol acrylics - shades 11 (silver) and 16 (gold) - with no problems, apart from the hand-removing properties of the stupid little screw-top plastic pots. I have now replaced them with new Humbrol pots - different design, in the style of Foundry. The pots themselves are a lot better, but I fear that the paint recipe has been changed again. I spent a lot of time stirring, warming, swearing. The paint, I fear, is crap. I might as well apply yogurt to my soldiers. Thus I am back with my Foundry pots - they seem OK - maybe they've thickened up with being opened. I must revisit the Citadel range again - I have to admit that I don't really understand Citadel paints any more - nothing is just a pot of paint, it is a base colour, or a highlight colour, or some bloody thing or other. I must pay attention, and get some decent gold and silver paint in.

I was spoiled, decades ago - eons ago - by a brief flirtation with Rose Miniatures gold paint, which came as a jar of metallic powder and a jar of clear medium, into which you mixed the powder. It was fiddly, but it produced a magnificent finish - never seen anything as good since. Anyway - persevere.

Flag work starts tomorrow.

Thanks again to Old John, who has been heroically helpful with links and uniform sources, and to all others who have offered help and advice.    

Monday 6 January 2020

WSS Project - Plodding Along Steadily

I'm still working away on my WSS soldiers - retouching and re-basing - there's a lot to do, but it's going along nicely, and I'm aiming to have enough forces to do some rules testing before long.

Here's a humble photo of some recent work - nothing ground-shaking, just some more nice toy soldiers!
Imperialists - still short of a few colonels and all the flags (which I'm working on separately) - here are some recent additions - 3 battalions of the IR Lothringen (Bishop of Osnabrueck's regt), 2 regiments of cuirassiers and the first of the artillery
Figures are all 1970s Les Higgins 20mm - I can't remember who made the cannon, but they're not Higgins

Saturday 4 January 2020

Hooptedoodle #352 - In Search of the White Stag

A few weeks ago I was recounting a daft old story for the benefit of the Contesse, and I enjoyed it greatly - though the Contesse did not say much about it, come to think of it.

I'll give a short version of the tale, mostly to fill out the post a bit.

The Original Tale

One Saturday morning in Spring, long ago, it seems I had something of a falling-out with my wife of the time - not an uncommon event, to be sure. On occasions like this, I sometimes used to go for a drive on my own, into the Highlands (I lived in Edinburgh at the time), to calm down. I can only add that traffic was lighter in those days - nowadays I would get stuck behind a caravan, and it would not calm me at all.

Citroen BX - this was so long ago that cars were monochrome
I remember the car I made this particular trip in - it was a Citroen BX - the second of three Citroens I owned. The reason I liked Citroens was that one of my sons used to get very travel-sick when he was a little boy, but he never got sick in a Citroen - something to do with the clever hydraulic suspension, which gave a ride like a hearse. The point is that this car dates the trip pretty accurately to 1988 or 1989.

Loch Lubnaig
On these trips I mostly used to head off towards Stirling - I was a big fan of the collection of vintage sports and racing cars at Doune - now all sold off and gone, alas - and I visited there regularly. On this occasion I headed north-west through Callander towards the Trossachs area. The A84 takes a twisty run along the shores of Loch Lubnaig - we may argue about where the Highlands really start, but this is good enough for me. It began to rain very heavily at this point, and when I got past the loch, as far as the village of Strathyre, I decided to stop for some lunch. There was a pub in the Main Street - I have always thought that Strathyre is a satisfyingly wild-sounding name anyway, so what could be better than to have a warming lunch in a Highland pub?

Strathyre Main Street (the A84) - looking south
I parked on the wide pavement outside, and went in. It was very dark. There was no-one in the bar. No log fire, nothing. As my eyes got used to the gloom, I observed that there were McEwan's tartan towel mats on the bar-top, such as I had not seen in use for maybe 10 or 15 years. I also noticed that I could smell the plumbing very distinctly. I assumed someone would appear soon, so I had a look at the old photos on the walls - grouse shoots from many years earlier, stuff like that, and I became aware that there was some evidence of life in the back room - so I knocked on a door and went in. Two locals in filthy overalls were playing pool - they seemed to have beers, so that was a good sign, I thought. When I entered they stopped playing immediately, stepped closer together, and approached me - quite aggressive - a bit like a phalanx. I backed off a pace or two.

"What are you wantin'?" asked one of them - I am ashamed to admit this, but the man had a glass eye, and I was so fixated by the idea that it must have given him problems playing pool that I was put rather off-balance. Also, alas, I wasn't quite sure if he was speaking to me.

"Er - I was looking for the landlord..."

"How? [Why?] Who are you, like?"

At this point I wasn't very sure, to be honest, but I explained that I was just a customer. The barman appeared in the room with us.

"This guy's looking for you," said Glass Eye. "He stopped us playing."

"What's the problem, then?" said the barman.

Fearing that this wasn't going very well, I went back into the bar with the barman, who took up the regulation position behind the taps.

"Are you wanting something?"

"I was wondering if I could perhaps get something to eat? Some lunch?"

"Lunch?" - perhaps I'd unwittingly suggested something indecent. "We've got crisps."

"You couldn't make me a sandwich or something? Any pies?" - as I said this, the word salmonella appeared like a subtitle.

"Crisps." The barman never blinked, I noticed.

"Erm - could I have a cup of coffee?"

"Nah - the machine's broken. I can sell you a beer..."

"What have you got on draught?" I peered into the darkness.

"You can see what we've got - the taps have signs on them, with the names of the beers."

"Oh yes - sorry - can I have a half-pint of Guinness?"

"It's off."

I was suddenly quite scared - I turned on my heel and ran out. I was delighted to get back into the rain and the fresh air. So much for my Highland idyll - I turned the car round and drove straight back to Edinburgh. At least when I argued with my first wife I knew what I was getting into.

I've always thought my Strathyre Lunch could have made the basis of a good mystery story - the stranger who disappeared. The man who was ritually murdered because he asked for lunch - the police never bothered to investigate, naturally.


After telling the story to the Contesse, the other day, I decided I would do some Internet poking-about, and see if the pub is still open. I forgot about the matter for a couple of days, but this morning I remembered, and I find that the pub - at least nowadays - is The White Stag. It looks quite nice, in fact - I'm sure it's been under new management for decades now. While I was surfing, I came across a bad review of the place on TripAdvisor - pretty spectacularly bad, in fact - and I came across a pretty heavy response from the current owner - I attach them here, in case you find them as entertaining as I did.

Maybe my mystery story is still a possibility - I'm sure the man with the glass eye would have sorted out any trouble-makers - I hope standards have not dropped since 1988.

Of course, we didn't have scope for giving bad reviews with such high visibility then - in those days you had to look people in the eye - real or fake - and deal with them. What an impoverished world it was, now I think about it.

Here's a bit of Jimmy Shand to provide some closing music - serves you all right. Have a good New Year anyway.