It would be fatuous - probably even very
irritating - to come up with some kind of useful personal spin-off from the
current corona-virus situation, but it is a fact that, since quite a lot of
things that I had planned to do are not going to be possible, then I am going
to be forced to do something else instead. In the interests of preserving the
tiny, ragged edges of what is left of my sanity I have an enforced opportunity
to revisit things which have been shelved or passed over, and there will be any
amount of time (if, of course, I am spared) to think about stuff.
Therefore it cannot be a complete
coincidence that today's post returns to what used to be a tradition on this
blog a few years ago - I shall begin with a lengthy digression. I, at least,
will probably enjoy it, and it serves a useful secondary purpose in filtering
out any unfortunate readers who arrived here by accident, and who are beginning
to see what a huge mistake that was.
I always assumed that "a doofer"
was just a saying used in my own family. My grandmother (the one from Preston)
used the phrase to refer to any object whose real name she had forgotten, or
simply didn't know. There was also a faint edge of intolerance in there - in my
grandmother's world, which mostly was built around Dickens, Mozart, cats and Rich Tea biscuits, anything which had
overtones of technology was an overhead - the sort of thing that some (common)
technical person would know about. Thus, though the thing itself might be
useful, the idea of actually understanding it was well beneath contempt. She
had a doofer with which she lit the gas stove, and doofers which secured the
stair carpet. Her life was filled with them.
Her brother, Alf, worked for many years in
the tram (later bus) workshops at Edge Lane, Liverpool, and he also spoke of
doofers. Originally, I believe, the term may come from the army - possibly WW1
- to describe something which was improvised, or fixed, or botched, and which
would "do for now". [I checked
my etymological dictionary, since that is the sort of thing for which I now
have more time, and I see that the likely origins of doofer are pretty much as
I thought, though the date is felt to be 1930s. That would surprise me if it
were true, since Great Uncle Alf would never have adopted any phrase which
appeared as late as the 1930s. Yes, this was a digression within a digression -
we have nested digressions].
Gradually this evolved into a general term
for something whose proper name you didn't know, and I am surprised at how
widespread this became. It is bound to be out of fashion now, of course, but I
recall that as my grandmother became older and more dotty there were more and
more doofers around the place. In more recent years, my mother started calling
almost everything "the thing-io"; it is a great comfort to be able to
forget the real names of everyday objects - I can see this.
What were we talking about, again?
Oh yes - doofers. Well, you will be excited
to read that I have taken delivery of a new doofer - it arrived on Saturday. I
have been waiting for this doofer for nearly two years, and to be more accurate
it is a prototype doofer.
Some time ago I commissioned the
manufacture of some rather similar doofers for my medieval/ECW sieges. They
worked well - they were, to be specific about it, firing platforms which could
be stood behind fortress walls, to give standing room for guns or bodies of
musketeers. I got my friend Michael at SLD
to design and laser-cut them from MDF, enhanced a little with masonry-style
engraving, and I made them up and painted and matt-varnished them, and they
were good. They were doofers to help with problems arising from the
eternal Scale Paradox in tabletop wargames (which, for reasons which I shall
attempt to explain, reach their zenith in the arcane world of miniature
sieges). At the time, I was also very surprised at the amount of criticism they
|Doofer to facilitate sieges on Medieval Walls - shades of "2001: Space Odyssey"?|
|And in action - a bit crude, but effective|
The problem is, you see, that if you had
attended a real medieval or Renaissance siege with your digital camera handy,
you would not have seen any of my doofers in action. They are not part of the
model-railway-style facsimile of a real siege, and quite a few readers reacted
badly to this. I called them "gun platforms" or sometimes
"buttresses", but really they were just add-on doofers to solve a
problem arising from the Scale Paradox.
Before I get buried even further in this
effort, let me insert a spoiler here, to explain that the new doofer I have
received is a prototype of the same sort of device, but designed to work with
Vauban-period walls. After adding the first-generation doofers to my ECW
sieges, I realised that progress with my 18th-19th Century sieges would require
the Mark II Siege Doofer. The walkways behind the parapets on my model Vauban
walls are only 30mm wide, which is not nearly enough to mount a gun up there,
without some form of extra support. I shall, I promise, come back to this after
I have burbled on about the Scale Paradox for a bit. If you are still with me,
you have my heartfelt admiration and gratitude.
My games usually take place on a hex-gridded
table, which I have found helps greatly and keeps things simple. There is still
an implied groundscale - my hexes are 7 inches across the flats, which is near
enough 180mm. My default horizontal scale is (approx) 1mm = 1 yard/metre. This
obviously varies for big battles scaled down, but that default is (approx) 200
paces = 1 hex, which is a useful round number.
I use 20mm or 1/72 scale soldiers, and for
infantry and cavalry I use an age-old ratio of 3 figures = 100 men, so that my
battalions normally have about 2 dozen men. The basing is designed to give
frontages compatible with the 1/1000 groundscale, and it also tries to make the
spacing of the miniature soldiers look about right for the kind of troops and
the kind of warfare they represent. [Though
please try to remember, Claude, that this is not the same as visual "realism"
- a 24-man battalion is not at all realistic, however much the photos out of
Charles Grant and Don Featherstone have come to shape our understanding].
Just to be awkward - another personal
compromise - I have yet another scale on the go at the same time. My buildings
are usually 15mm scale, which is about 1/100 - this is similar to the old TT
model railway scale. The underscale buildings have a few advantages - they are
cheaper, they have a smaller footprint, and they can be grouped into what seem
to me to be more convincing villages. You can also, with time, get used to the
look of the thing - the fact that a soldier would get stuck in the door of the
church is a relatively unimportant matter when you are fighting Leipzig. I work
on the assumption that a smallish village is marked by a representative cluster
of slightly undersized houses - they are usually placed around the edges of a
hex, so that a unit may be placed among them, and the houses themselves can be
shunted about as necessary to make room for what is going on - the individual
model buildings do not represent real individual buildings, and you can't take
roofs off or put people inside. In the games I play, that is not necessary or
useful. The important things about a village are its outline (and in a
hex-based game that is an obvious concept, though non-hex players will still
have a requirement to define the edges of the built-up area) and who is in it.
Anyway, you get the idea. On occasions I
may choose to use 20mm-scale walls and hedges for my soldiers to stand behind,
just for the look of the thing, but by and large this odd mish-mash of scales
is now tried and tested and works well. Let's remind ourselves, that's
* 1/1000 horizontal scale, for ranges,
moves, frontages, table layout.
* 1/72 (visual) vertical scale for the
model soldiers - which is a given.
vertical scale for the buildings - which is simply a convenient compromise.
Now then. When we consider sieges this
suddenly becomes more of a problem. The layout of a fort is not just a matter
of appearance or convention - the lengths of the walls, the positioning and
dimensions of the bastions and so on are set by rules which relate to the
effective range of a musket (or whatever), and a representative model is no
longer going to be fit for purpose unless it has about the right footprint. We
now bump our noses quite firmly against the "look of the thing" problem
- we can use 15mm buildings if we wish, but the big issue here is the Scale
Paradox - our toy soldiers live in a world where a man is about 22mm tall, but
the distances and the ground plan require a world where 1mm is 1 metre (or 2mm
= 1 toise, if you insist). There -
did you feel that bump on your nose? That's because the groundscale is one
tenth of the visual scale. It always was, but it just became a problem.
For reasons which I really don't understand
- I can only assume that the model designers had been through all this same reasoning
before - the old Terrain Warehouse 15mm
Vauban pieces that I use look OK with the soldiers, but the footprint of the
various bits also makes sense in the groundscale I use. So it works in both senses (though
obviously this must be a pretty silly-looking fort from the point of view of
proportions, but it is silly in the same way as the soldiers themselves, so
maybe that's what matters).
I've now reminded myself (again) that I
don't really understand why this works, but it does. Further, it may not actually
work at all - it might just be that I think it does. There you go - full circle
- you set your games up to suit you, and I'll suit myself. That's probably
where we came in. Before I finally put this note out of its misery, here's some
photos of the new doofer. Since I am pleased that it is what I designed, that
it works and is what I wanted, I shall get Michael to make me some more, and I'll
make them up and store them away in the Sieges
|The new prototype Mk II Siege Doofer - assembled, painted and varnished|
|In position on the Terrain Warehouse 15mm scale Vauban wall|
|And here demonstrating how some big French guns may be deployed|