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

Wednesday 30 June 2021

Hooptedoodle #400 - Roller Towels as We Knew Them

 Recently I was looking at some old photos of domestic kitchens - circa WW1, I guess, and I saw a picture of one of these...

In case you don't recognise it, this is a traditional roller towel - linen on a wooden roller - such as my grannie had on her kitchen wall, and they were found in various other places (all my friends' grannies' kitchens, for a start) - they were everywhere, once, but I had forgotten about them completely.

Two yards of linen, stitched to make a loop. My grannie's would certainly have been clean (boiled) every day. We had them in the washrooms at my primary school - I was at primary school in the 1950s, though the school itself was pretty much Victorian. That was less satisfactory, the soiled towel would go round and round, getting wetter and filthier as the day went on. I guess they must have been in factories and pubs and everywhere.

By the time I was working, and in the habit of going into pubs, they had been replaced by linen rolls in metal dispensers which were usually serviced by a contract company - and they seldom seemed to work very satisfactorily - they would jam, or the towel would end up in a sodden heap on the floor. Eventually, of course, all this was replaced by paper towels, to ensure someone could make money from the conversion of forests into non-recyclable paper waste, and later still by hot air blasters. I guess this has all been progress - driven by the search for improved hygiene.

 Anyway - back to the point. I can see some arguments in favour of the old linen roller:

* It would always be in the same place - no-one could walk off with it

* If it was used sensibly, each user drying their face/hands and moving it down a little, it might have dried off by the time it went right round

* No-one could use it to clean his football boots (or whatever)

* It kept it off the floor

* It was Official Issue - it would be maintained and refreshed by the Keeper of the House (Grannie)

My grannie's used to be on the wall next to the big sink in her back kitchen (scullery?) - when he came in from work, my grandad used to wash his face and hands with Stergene (bottled laundry detergent), I believe, which is scary, and on one famous occasion he accidentally washed his face with liquid ammonia, from which he seems to have recovered all right, and recovered long before his wife forgave him for his language. 

Here's an old vote in support of roller towels, with useful life-style tips for the enthusiast:

Kitchen Work Made Easier.


It seems strange to speak of the roller towel as a convenience, when it should be considered a positive necessity in every well-ordered household, yet there are many more kitchens without them than with them in some parts of the country— the cook substituting her work apron, or, worse, a dish towel, to wipe her hands upon. A roller and fixtures can be bought ready to screw into the wall. Six towels is a bountiful supply for one roller. Buy a good quality of linen crash, making each towel two-and-a-half yards in length; sew in a seam and fell neatly. Roller towels that have been in use a few months make the best tea towels, as they are soft and pliable, a quality by no means to be despised. Cut in two, hem the edges and again supply the towel drawer with new roller towels. In this way the drawer can be always supplied with strong towels for kitchen toilet purposes, as well as soft ones for the dishes. — The Weekly Wisconsin (May 13, 1889).

Conversely, it was also identified as a menace to health, as here: 

From a public information advertisement in the US in 1915

 While shaving this morning, I wondered if a variant could have been produced - a Moebius Towel? - with a single twist in the towel before stitching - this could gradually have presented us with both sides of the linen before we got back to the soiled bit. Nah - it wouldn't work, but I do find shaving very boring.


Wednesday 23 June 2021

Hooptedoodle #399 - Time Out for a Jigsaw Puzzle

 A lot of work is going on here at present, trying to restore some order to Chateau Foy after the sale of my mother-in-law's house, which has involved an astonishing amount of stuff passing through here on its way to the saleroom, or the charity shop, or the tip. One useful side effect of this is that we keep finding things that we had lost or forgotten about. Last week we found this item behind the sofa in the Garden Room (aka The Ironing Room or The Music Practice Room):

It is a Jumeo PortaPuzzle - a very handy item, which will keep your unfinished jigsaw puzzle flat and safe - you can even zip it shut and take your puzzle around to someone else's house - whatever. You may well own such a thing. This is quite a big one - it's about 32.3 inches wide - big enough for a 1000-piecer, which is why behind the sofa is about the only place we could have stored it.

OK - this is not an advert for PortaPuzzles, nor even for the benefits of tidying up, but the discovery of this lost treasure did encourage me to dig out one of our jigsaws and have a go. My puzzle of choice was a 400-piece job we have had for a couple of years; it's a custom puzzle depicting a map of our home county. It's not the entire county, of course - the big towns and the old coalmining areas are mysteriously excluded, so it's a sort of cute, tourists' view map of our county. This makes an interesting little challenge; the puzzle comes without an illustration. It would be possible, of course, to get hold of an actual map, and use that as a master, but that would definitely be cheating; the objective here is to complete the puzzle from one's own knowledge of the area. I spent a fascinating couple of days trying to locate all the farms and tiny hamlets, and there was an insane afternoon when I placed all the sea pieces by measuring the gridlines and checking for a match.

Anyway - not much more to say about it really, but I'm reminded that jigsaws are good fun, I am pleased with my knowledge of the area, and I am encouraged to try another puzzle next week. I have an unopened 500-piece picture of Port Isaac, which will do nicely. The map puzzles are made by Butler & Hill, if you are interested. 

It did occur to me that carrying one of these map puzzles around in your car in case you get lost would not be a great plan, unless you had plenty of time. 

I was discussing with the Contesse the most terrifying jigsaw we had heard of - the winner was a large puzzle showing only a coloured picture of baked beans - a bath full of beans, in fact, cropped so that only the beans were visible. That's pretty bad, but we understand that some maniac also produced such a puzzle, but printed on both sides with different, though similar, photos of baked beans. That's certainly a bit extreme.

Monday 21 June 2021

Brunanburh: History for Videogamers

 Just a very quick extra post on The Great Battle of 937 - someone sent me a link to this, which is pretty much aimed at videogamers, but I rather enjoyed it, and it seems a reasonable presentation of current thought [the battlefield site is probably a bit out]. It's 11 minutes or something - sorry about the sponsors' adverts and That Voice, and the cute captions, but it's not a bad little summary.

No, I haven't downloaded the game.

Friday 18 June 2021

WSS: Queen Dowager's Regt of Horse

 This unit has taken a while to finish - the hot weather has been a problem for painting, and also the football has been a very enjoyable distraction. Anyway - here they are. They still have to have their flag fitted, and I'll see to that in the morning when the varnish is properly cured.

Problems with the heat? Well, mostly these are to do with my own tendency to snooze in hot weather, but I did have some issues with paint going off too quickly, and also some concerns about my varnish. Normally, I apply gloss varnish with a fairly large brush - it floods on well, and the fact that it goes on a little frothy is OK, because the bubbles disappear before the varnish dries. However, this can be tricky if the ambient temperature is high - it's possible for the varnish to start to set with the bubbles still present. I was prepared for this, so I've been careful to use the varnish in a cooler room, and everything is fine.

If the flag goes on nicely in the morning I hope to add another photo, and I may line up the growing British contingent for a group photo. 

 ***** Late Edit *****

Righto - good morning - the flag is now in place, and here are the extra pictures:

 This little British army is still to receive 2 more regiments of horse, 1 of dragoons, 3 (possibly 4) of foot, 2 more field guns and some staff - probably a commander and a couple of brigadiers. After that I have to finish some bits and pieces for the Imperial and Bavarian forces, and then start on the French. There are plans beyond that, but let's keep it sensible for the time being!

I am prepared to bet that you probably know who the Queen Dowager was, but I certainly didn't (being an ignopotamus), so I did a bit of reading, and I now have at least some basic facts:

She was the widow of Charles II - Caterina de Bragança. She seems to have had a fairly poor time of it when Charlie Boy was still alive (having to accept Charles's mistress into the Royal Household, among other outrages), and she famously had no children, as a consequence of which there were quite a few British monarchs in a short time. Partly because she was trying to secure her inheritance, she hung around in Britain for some years after she was widowed, and her regiment of horse was still in evidence in 1703 (though known as Wyndham's Horse by this date). She returned to Portugal before she died in 1705.

Here is a portrait of Queen Caterina, dressed as a shepherdess. You probably recognised her outfit immediately, since all shepherdesses dress like this - certainly in Scotland they do. The cherub seems dubious. 


Sunday 13 June 2021

Waterloo - new BluRay limited edition

 I pre-ordered the limited-edition BluRay re-issue of Bondarchuk's 1970 movie, like a good chap, and yesterday a parcel plonked through my door. I haven't watched it yet.

I probably bought this in the same spirit that I would buy another new Liverpool FC coffee mug - loyalty as much as direct interest. The pack includes various posters and booklets and promotional materials - including replicas from 1970; the actual digital material includes sound-track excerpts, a 30-minute documentary about the making of the film and an extra version of the movie with audio commentary added by Simon Lewis. Lewis is a screen writer and author - he has no particular connection with the topic (apart from the fact that he is writing a book about the production of the 1970 film, to be published by BearManorMedia sometime in 2021), so his commentary is on the detail of the filming rather than the history, but there is also military input added by Robert Pocock, the Napoleonic expert [who?] - fair enough - I'll certainly watch that. I'll also watch out for the book, and apparently someone is working on a documentary film about Bondarchuk - if you want to know any more about this, have a look at Lewis's Facebook page Waterloo1970Book - I won't attempt a direct link to FB here, since they never work, but I've seen the page, so I know it exists.

The movie itself, apart from a digital clean-up, is undoctored - the legendary missing scenes are not included (lost forever, it seems), so the Prussian cavalry will still enter the fray carrying their sabres in their left hands, so that they may be seen charging from left-to-right (same direction as the Scots Greys), which the director decided would be less confusing for the audience.

There have been earlier BluRay reissues - the customer reviews for these have been poor, with complaints about Region compatibility and Vietnamese subtitles - stuff like that. I am not expecting to be particularly excited - nor disappointed - by my new purchase. As with the allegorical football mug, the coffee will be pretty much the same. I'll give it a spin next weekend.

Lewis certainly gets a good plug of his forthcoming book. I know nothing of his previous CV, so I shall reserve judgement, though I note with some alarm that in the past he has worked on a film script with the dreaded Dan M Brown - presumably Lewis contributed the bits that weren't pinched from Wikipedia, and corrected the grammar and punctuation.

So - new movie reissue pack in HD - haven't watched it yet - I've seen the original movie more times than I'm prepared to admit, so there may not be too many surprises. 

Quite happy so far. I'll probably mention this again.


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

This is just for Rodger...


Wednesday 9 June 2021

Brunanburh: The Colour of Fallen Leaves

 Well, my first books arrived. They came very quickly, the only slight shadow was that they had obviously been packed by someone at Amazon who was eating potato crisps - all 3 books had big greasy fingerprints on them. I am very pleased to report that a microfibre glasses-cleaning cloth removed the marks, so everything is cool.

I've only dipped into them, thus far - the two smaller books (not the Michael Livingston volume) contain a lot of very cryptic data concerning GPS readings for archeological finds, and a host of monochrome photos, some of which are too obscure to make out what they are - not to worry. All good, and this is all new to me.

Livingston's book looks excellent - he is a very enthusiastic writer. It's a while since I read a book describing archeological work (the previous one was an account of the digging up of St Baldred's religious settlement here in East Lothian, including the grave of Olaf Guthfrithson), and I had forgotten what this stuff is like. For a start, the evidence they describe is often disputed, and mostly too damaged to be sure of very much. That's all OK - it's the nature of the beast - the raw material sometimes seems, to a layman, too unconvincing (or even unlikely) to make much of a story.

I'm also reminded that this kind of work involves a surprising level of jousting between proponents of rival views - the put-downs of other people's efforts are sometimes verging on sarcasm. Maybe this is how scholars behave?

I shall rise above this. Yesterday I was reading about the arguments in favour of the Brunanburh battlefield being in the Wirral. One big positive is that the Wirral is an obvious landing point for the ships which brought the Viking force from Dublin. Mention is made, in the Brunanburh poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, of Dingesmere, which might be where the boats were, or might be somewhere on the route back to where the boats were, or it might even simply mean "the stormy sea" - there's a lot of disagreement about translations. Whether or not Dingesmere was an actual place, it is worthwhile trying to think through where the Vikings would have landed. A couple of points here:

* This was not a land of mystery to the Vikings - there were Viking communities in the Wirral, and it's a short crossing from Dublin, so they probably knew where they were going. 

* We don't even know whether they landed at the end of the Wirral peninsula (on the Irish Sea), at somewhere like Meols or Leasowe, or in the River Dee, or in the Mersey, or, as one of the theories has it, in the Pool of Wallasey, which is a branch of the Mersey.  

* Somewhere in the ancient writings, the water is described as yellow, which has been interpreted as meaning sandy or muddy. Debate about accuracy of translation has suggested that the original meaning is closer to "the colour of fallen leaves". Hmmm - how long after they've fallen? This could be yellow, or greenish-brown, or anything, really, but it is of interest since the Rivers Dee and Mersey are very different, as I shall now discuss briefly. All primary-school geographers please pay attention.

Here's an old map of the Wirral. A modern map would be rather different, since the River Dee has silted up. You will see that the profile of the Dee Estuary is triangular - the river which passes under a road bridge at Chester (which was a port in Roman times), gets wider and wider as it approaches the sea. This means that, when the tide goes out, the water runs slower and slower as the width increases - a constant volume of water moving through a widening channel - and the silt and mud falls to the bottom. In the 4th Century, there were already problems with silting near Chester, and it became necessary to find useable ports further downstream. This continues to this day - Neston and Parkgate were seaside villages at the start of the 19th Century, and Parkgate was a busy landing place, but now the old sea wall faces onto an area of overgrown saltmarsh which is over two miles in width. When the Spring tides bring the Dee into contact with the Parkgate sea wall, the event is rare enough for visitors to come to see it. Parkgate may well have been a viable landing place in Viking times - there are other possible berthings at Caldy and Heswall and Thurstaston (Thor's Stone). The main point here is that the Dee is, and always has been, muddy.

Parkgate, circa 1900, when they still had a beach and fishing "nobbies". When I was a kid, you could still get a little bag of boiled local shrimps in the village

This was before the tide went out, permanently, about 2 miles. Don't try to land your army there now.

As you can see from the map, the Mersey has the reverse profile - this river is also muddy, but opposite the Port of Liverpool it is about a mile wide, while a few miles upstream, opposite Speke and Oglet, it is nearly three miles wide. When the tide goes out, that great pool of water rushes out through the narrow mouth, and it keeps itself clear. This is why the Port of Liverpool is more important commercially than Parkgate, but it also explains why the Mersey is a different colour from the Dee.

But is it the colour of fallen leaves? Who knows? I shall read on, with interest.

It seems that the likely battlefield site (if it was, in fact, in the Wirral) is around the village of Brimstage, which is right in the centre of the peninsula. If Miss Bentham's class were to cut out a cardboard Wirral, a pin through Brimstage would be close to the centre of mass. They could colour it in with crayons. Yellow water - all that.

Saturday 5 June 2021

Wargaming Infrastructure: Skimpy Dice

 I adopted the heading "Wargaming Infrastructure" here because it is more imposing than "improvised daft bits and pieces", which was another possibility.

In a dark cupboard, I am still working on my Prinz Eugen rules. The Close Combat rule is now a derivative of Stryker's Muskets & Marshals melee system, and is shaping up nicely. This uses comparison of individual dice rolls, and I realised that for the way I propose to use these I need to revisit an old concept I used years ago - that of fractional dice.

Once I had a couple of varieties of these, nothing very scientific, but very useful in some situations. They were generically known (by me) as "skimpies", and there was a Half Dice (numbered 0-1-1-2-2-3) and a Quarter Dice (0-0-1-1-1-2). Anyway, they are long gone, but I realised that the current draft system for Prinz Eugen would benefit from the presence of some of my old Quarter Dice, so I have quickly (and cheaply) knocked some up, and they seem to be doing the job OK thus far. The "cheaply" bit is partly because I may change my mind about what is needed, but is mostly because of my lifelong devotion to being a skinflint.

Once upon a time, my friend Chris worked in a place that tuned racing motorcycles, and he had all sorts of fancy kit for hand-fabricating parts for carburettors and all that. He could produce custom dice for me at the drop of a hat, during his lunch hour - I would supply blank dice (which in those days you could only get from educational suppliers) and he would drill them with great precision, and fill the holes with coloured resin, as required. Quality.

This time round, I opened one of my spare packs of 16mm blank dice (how did you guess I would have quite a few of these?) and marked them up with a Sharpie pen, which lacks the elegance and the accuracy of Chris's lunchtime specials from the 1970s, but otherwise ticks all the boxes for St Ebenezer.

So here you have them - Quarter Dice - "skimpies" to the initiated. They may be featured in the coming rewrite of Prinz Eugen.

Footnote: Friend Chris later became a big-deal DJ on a local commercial radio station, and left the petrol-head workshops, and I lost touch with him. Eventually, as does happen, he was required to step down to make room for someone younger, and he vanished so completely that I have failed to trace him subsequently, though I have tried chasing up former mutual friends. No-one knows what happened to him. You don't suppose commercial radio stations do something sinister with their ex DJs, do you?

Friday 4 June 2021

Hooptedoodle #397a - Hillsborough - unexpected postscript

 Well, well - some real news today.

With luck, this will be the last time I mention Hillsborough here. Within a couple of days of the mistrial decision in Salford last week (have a look at my earlier post if you wish), at the end of which the defence lawyers restated their argument that the prosecution was a witch-hunt, and that this finally laid to rest any suggestion of a cover-up, it is announced today that West Yorkshire Police and West Midlands Police had already agreed a settlement to families and survivors, admitting to the cover-up and the lax internal Police investigation which followed, following a civil action which was raised against them in 2015.

This was agreed during April, apparently, but was not announced until today, after the Salford trial ended (or didn't end, in this case). Copious apologies from the Police, and the damages are because of admitted concealment of the facts and misinformation.

OK - on the face of it, that seems very positive. Whether the money available makes any sense or not is not the immediate point, and also it is apparent that the victims' families have pursued this primarily in search of truth, not for financial gain, to protect the reputation and dignity of their lost loved ones, and to get someone to accept the blame for the tragedy in 1989. I guess this is something of a compromise - no-one will be personally blamed, but here's some money. It's probably as good as it was ever going to get.

I would be very interested to see the BBC wheel the three Salford defence lawyers out again, in view of the fact that the Police had already agreed to settle a month before the mistrial, at the close of which the lawyers were still muttering about a drunken riot, and strongly denying that there had ever been a cover-up. Well, it looks as though there was one, after all, and action is being taken. Embarrassing or what?

Mr Goldberg QC [in particular] - do you have anything to add? 

I wish for some peace and a little solace for those members of the families of the 96 who are still alive - many of them didn't get this far.

It may not be accessible outside the UK, but the new BBC story is here. I didn't make this stuff up.

Tuesday 1 June 2021

Hooptedoodle #398 - Brunanburh - This May Be a New Interest for Me...

 Anyone who has had the courage to dip into this blog over the years may be aware of a pattern which I have commented on in the past. I'm not sure quite how it comes about, though I have a theory or two, but I have observed that it definitely does come about.

Typically, I suddenly realise that I have bumped into the same potentially interesting topic several times, from different directions, in quick succession - and I am intrigued, not only by the subject matter, but also by the way the bumps have occurred. If this makes no sense at all to you, then I understand completely, by the way.

The theory? [Let's get this out of the way...]

I reckon that we are constantly impacted by all sorts of things, and there are plentiful coincidences and apparently unlikely areas of overlap, but we don't necessarily notice unless we have some underlying interest or reason to recognise them when the arise. [As a stupid, though useful, simplification, a friend of mine pointed out, correctly, that if you walk through a crowded city centre on a Saturday, it is very probable that you will pass some total strangers multiple times each, but you don't notice because you don't know them and have no reason to recognise them (unless one of them is wearing a pink jacket, or is a Martian, of course). However, if you pass your best drinking buddy, Dave, twice in quick succession you will notice, and probably exchange grins, and make a mental note of what a small world it is (or something equally profound)].

I'm not sure why I bothered to set that theory out - never mind - bear with me.

I've been aware of Brunanburh for some years - it was a dirty great battle, back in 937AD, whose exact location has been a matter of debate for a long time. Recently I've found I keep bumping into Brunanburh - gosh, there it is again - so I recognise that it may have become significant to me - my new drinking buddy. 

Let us discuss the bumps, not necessarily in strict chronological order. These will overlap a bit, which is the whole point of this story, I think - if you are due to have coffee, this might be the time to get one - have a couple of biscuits, too.

Bump 1

My wife has recently been clearing her late mother's house for sale, and we are left with some miscellaneous items. One of these is a sealed box set of DVDs of the BBC's "History of Scotland" from 2008, which I have now borrowed and started to watch. My wife and I are fans of these non-fiction BBC series - I still re-watch the multiple editions of "Coast", which are a constant source of delight to people trapped by lockdown. 

We didn't have the DVDs of A History of Scotland - we watched some of them when the series was transmitted (12 years ago), and we missed a few. They were notable for the director's fixation with certain motifs, which got in the way of our viewing a little; every time Neil Oliver was required to deliver a narrative, looking over his shoulder at camera while walking briskly across a moor somewhere, and every time we got a close-up of some historical character's eyeball, or of blood spattering on a stone floor, or of speeded-up clouds to denote the passage of time, my wife and I would break out into spontaneous ironic cheering, and this was something of a distraction.

I must say that, as a non-native resident of Scotland, an incomer, I have always struggled with Scottish history. It is messy, it is very confusing, it is frequently contentious and it is dominated by legends and tales of heroes which are often wildly inaccurate and add to the difficulty. If I can live with the director's trademark tricks, I could usefully learn something here, so I have come back to the DVDs with some enthusiasm, and greater resolve.

Anyway, second instalment of the series, guess what? That's right - King Constantine II of Scotland and his ally, Olaf Guthfrithson, king of the Vikings - have a massive battle against Athelstane at Brunanburh. OK - excellent. They lose, of course.

Bump 2

My old school chum, Bain, who now lives in North London, has recently become heavily involved with the University of the Third Age (U3A), and has a number of history projects on the boil. Well, simmering. He is preparing some lectures and papers on the Battle of Brunanburh - do I know anything about it? Well, not very much, as it happens, but Bain and I have now exchanged a series of emails on the topic, and this has fired me up a little.

Bump 3

In 2005, an excavation was carried out on the farm where I live, an archeological dig, in fact, and they unearthed a religious settlement and its graveyard (which was founded in the 8th Century by St Baldred, and buried its monks there for a couple of centuries). They also found the grave (and personal remains) of a non-Christian outsider, who is almost certainly the aforementioned Olaf Guthfrithson, who is known to have been killed during a raid on the East Lothian coast in 941AD. Well well - Brunanburh is obviously inescapable - we are almost related by this stage.

Bump 4

When I was a very young chap, I applied to university and was awarded a place at Edinburgh without having to sit my final exams again, so I promptly left school, and got a job until I started at college in the Autumn (this is a particularly bad idea, by the way, but discussion would be inappropriate here). I got a job in the accounts department at the North West division of Cubitt's, the civil engineering and construction firm, whose head office was next door to the Kelvinator factory, on the New Chester Road at Bromborough, on the Wirral, across the river from Liverpool. I knew Bromborough a little, since my Uncle Harold lived there.

At the Cubitt site, we had an old watchman who looked after the joinery shop, and he was a great character. He used to tell us tales of when he worked as a green keeper at Bromborough Golf Club, before the war, and also at a tennis club at (I think) Brimstage, another local village. He told us there had been a great battle there "in prehistoric times" [sic] - they regularly dug up bits of swords, helmets, ancient sandals and bits of horse harness. Naturally, we dismissed all this as an old man's ramblings, but he did tell a good story.

Bump 5

I read recently that Bernard Cornwell, no less, has been adding his enthusiasm and resources to the opportunities for exploration of the old Brunanburh site, which he is convinced is at Bromborough, in the Wirral. Previously, alternative candidate sites were at Sutton Hoo (don't even know where that is) and in a lay-by near Doncaster (which sounds a bit compact for the biggest ever British battle), but Mr Cornwell tells us that the true site overlaps Bromborough Golf Course and the grounds of the old Clatterbridge Hospital, right next to the M53, which is the motorway which runs up the spine of the Wirral to Birkenhead.

Crikey - now you're talking.

Bump, bump, bump. Bain's U3A course, the old groundsman's finds on the golf course, Uncle Harold's house in Bromborough village, Olaf Guthfrithson, the BBC videos and now Mr Cornwell. I think I was predestined to be interested in this lot - I am involved, after all.

Watch this space.