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

Monday 25 October 2021

WSS - The Attic Room

 After a few months off, to leave space for some heavy Real Life stuff and also to avoid some oppressive heat up there, I've got back to some soldier painting in the Attic Room.

Up in the roof - very quiet up here, except when it's stormy. Tea and biscuits and I'm up for it.

I'm working pretty slowly, restricting myself to sessions of about two and a half hours, but it's pleasing to be back at it. I'm sort of getting myself comfortable with what I hope will be a useful Winter of hobby work. I'm attempting to establish some kind of default routine, so that it feels as though I know what I'm doing!

Lots of bright lights, and during daylight hours I keep the blind shut for painting, since my poor old eyes don't like overhead light.

Some suitable radio programme on in the background (if there's no football on it's usually BBC Radio 3 these days, not least because they have minimal news coverage, and I may now have retired from listening to the news...), a flask of black tea and some Abernethy or Digestive biscuits and I'm very peaceful up there!

I have some excellent painting work going on elsewhere, contracted out to guys who paint much better than I do, which will appear here before long, but I've resumed some of my ongoing WSS refurb work. As ever, this refurb stuff is an industry with traditions all of its own. The original figures are never as good as I thought they were, I spend a lot of time fiddling around improving things that I had planned to leave alone, I keep being reminded that these are never going to look as good or as crisp as work on fresh castings would, but they will be fine when they are finished!

Not yet ready to be looked at - I'm currently half-way through the belting and leatherwork; these chaps will take a big step forward when they get their hats painted!

I'm currently working on a batch of pre-owned figures I bought from the Rye Soldier Shop before it was closed by Covid; the figures on the bottletops at present will, by the weekend, be The Buffs (Holland Regiment, Charles Churchill's Foot, whatever) and the [Royal] Irish Regt (Fred Hamilton's Foot). After that I have some more refurb work to do on some rather better figures, these acquired from the legendary Albannach last year - I am still pondering who they'll be after a wash and brush-up.

British army is shaping up - still some more Horse required, and I'm short of a couple of guns and most of the Staff, but definitely getting there. Next after that will be a belated assault on the French - there are hordes of them waiting to be painted! After that there should be some Dutch, the odd German principality and what not. However, at the moment, my immediate objective is to get settled into my Winter studio, and get used once again to painting regularly and in sensible amounts. Looking forward to it, actually.

Friday 22 October 2021

Hooptedoodle #410 - Big Bang in Oman

 The kick off for this yarn is an incident we had here about a month ago on the farm. Some unusually well organised hooligans appear to have arranged an impressive firework display on the beach in the early evening. It lasted about 15 minutes, was very noisy, and scared the resident horses very badly, as you might expect. Apart from being inconsiderate, this is also very illegal. One horse in the stables was injured, fortunately not seriously, but it took a while for everything to calm down afterwards. There was a pile of rubbish left on the beach, but there was no sign of the perpetrators, only 20 minutes after it finished. [Bad strategy here - the farming family sent a couple of people down to the beach, whereas they would have done better to wait for the baddies coming up the lane from the car park, on their way out. I may even have heard the getaway cars, come to think of it. Note for next time.]

This incident has reminded me of my favourite-ever firework story, of which I am so fond that I was sure I must have trotted it out here before. I did a quick search on this blog, but couldn't find it, so - if I have told it before - any mismatches between this version and last time can be attributed to old codger's licence, which is a noble tradition. I also have to own up that one reason the story is a hit with me is because I am shamefully scared of all sorts of fireworks. I come from a long line of cowards.

In the days when I was musically more active, I was involved in a jazz festival in the Middle East (this, I reckon, was October 1998), flying from Amsterdam to Bahrain by Gulf Air business class (I only ever flew in anything other than steerage class if someone else was paying - normally, my seat on an aircraft was equipped with oars). I found I was sitting next to a rather scruffy-looking English chap on the plane, who I assumed must be another musician; however it transpired that he was a technician working for a British company who specialised in putting on what he described as "high end" firework displays. It seems that fireworks are very popular in the Emirates and thereabouts, and he was on his way to do some estimating for some mighty forthcoming show.

He told me some entertaining tales of life in his industry - he had set off big bangers all over the known world, and some of the sums of money involved were very scary indeed; let us not get into the politics, but the cost of one of these shows would have fed or educated an awful lot of people for a long time.

He told me about one very special show in Muscat which had gone badly, some years earlier. He was (disappointingly) pleased that his company had not been involved; it was a Dutch organisation, who were sued into oblivion as a result.

The event was (I think) connected with the National Day, and many hundreds of invited guests of the Sultan of Oman and his family were there. Royalty, heads of state, film stars, the Stinking Rich and all sorts of international gangsters - the place was dripping with jewellery, there were $1000 dresses all over. The heart of the event was a 2 hour concert dinner, featuring the Vienna Philharmonic, Andrea Bocelli and so on and so on. Fireworks were to be tastefully added to the entertainment throughout, building to a blockbuster finale, complete with full orchestra. There were 3 articulated wagon-loads of fireworks, and the technology was all state of the art for that time - lighting, orchestral cues and the firing of the pyrotechnics were all driven by MIDI, which is where we were at in those days.

Everything started around 7pm in a huge garden setting, built specially for the occasion. There were some introductory speeches, and then the orchestra began with some very gentle Strauss, while champagne and the first appetisers were brought out. The requisite, subdued floral-effect fireworks were started up, and, because of some (mooted) electrical fault, the entire 3 trucks-worth of fireworks all went off in a single, sustained barrage lasting about a minute.

No-one was hurt, fortunately, though some may have been temporarily deaf for a day or two. There was a general state of shock, as you would expect, with people sitting, concussed, in their soot-stained finery. I had a wonderful moment wondering how they must have spent the rest of the evening, but apparently some contingency plan snapped into action, everyone was hustled away to waiting transports, and the site was cleared very quickly. There may have been a few beheadings - legend does not relate - but there was certainly a complete news embargo. This, of course, was in the days before social media would have made such a thing impossible.

That's the end of the story, really. I failed to find any evidence of this Big Bang online - maybe it never happened, though the guy's stories were generally very good and seemed plausible - I can't think why he would make it up. Form your own judgement. Quite why I should be quietly pleased by the idea of so many rich people being frightened at such extreme cost is something I'll have to think about, but there we are.

If you have been upset by this story, please phone our usual number for counselling. Whatever you do, please take care with those sparklers in the UK on November 5th.


Wednesday 13 October 2021

Hooptedoodle #409 - Uncle Scrooge Saves the Planet (again)


A few days ago, I received a letter from my supplier of domestic LPG. It told me that, since wholesale prices for gas have increased by 30.8% (hmmm; accurate = scientific), they are going to have to put a major hike on the price of delivered gas, but they can assure me that the price will be reduced again as soon as possible (click here).

Fair enough - not unexpected. I am embarrassed that it should have required the possibility of financial cost, but this has encouraged me to get on with something I failed to do last winter, which is to check the on/off times for our heating system. It turns out that on weekdays it was coming on at 05:30, which dates from the time when my wife had to get up extra early to deliver our son to the school bus, and switching off in the evening at 00:30 - this because the same son used to sit up late playing video games, and liked sauna-like temperatures while he was doing it. Since he is now gone to college, I reprogrammed the timer, and it will now come on at 07:00 and turn off at 22:30, with a sensible off-period during the day.

I estimate I have reduced the "switched on" time for heating by about 34%. Of course, the whole system is subject to thermostatic valves, and we will certainly continue to wash, but I am confident that I have just about cancelled out the expected increase in my gas bills by the simple expedient of being stingy. Excellent, and I am positively glowing with pride at the benefits for the environment.

I realise that a similar approach to offsetting an electricity hike will require dirtier clothes, cold food and more sitting in the dark, but so far so good.

Saturday 2 October 2021

Wargames which Turned Weird - (1) The Surprise Railway

 This follows from an email exchange with a friend - we have got into a discussion of the strangest wargames we've been involved in. His suggestions have been generally more entertaining than mine; most of my own involved grandiose projects - often with multiple participants - sometimes organised by established clubs - for which the average budgerigar could have accurately predicted disaster. Games which could never end, games which were scuppered by the non-arrival of a key participant, one game which was stopped by a burst water pipe in the flat above. You know the kind of thing - all this must be small beer to you veterans.

One game I still remember with trembling was my first attempt at staging a proper miniatures battle. In a big rush (I was looking for a new hobby), I read Featherstone's War Games from cover to cover, plus various magazine articles, and decided that Airfix-based ACW would be just the thing. I had no modelling skills, no knowledge, no idea. I bought the First Bull Run volume from the Knight's Wargame Series, and pored over every word [when you have a minute, count the ways in which this was a very silly approach].

Whatever, I was too busy to do much thinking - I spent about six weeks daubing paint on hacked Airfix troops - boxes of the beggars. In the pub, I spoke of my new project to my downstairs neighbour, Ken, who was very enthusiastic about the idea and offered to help me to get started. He seemed to be coming from the right sort of direction, since he had a large model railway stored away in his cellar, and also had an enormous dining table in his apartment.

Since my own model railway scenery was stored away in a box in a cupboard in my parents' house, in a distant city, I let him persuade me that he would be just the man to host a trial battle - he had plenty of HO-scale trees and stuff, even exotica such as papier-maché hills. If I just brought along my armies and a working knowledge of some rules or other, he would set up the field, and would stock up on beer.

We had some discussion about a suitable scenario. It was obvious that Bull Run itself was well out of scope, but I found a scenario in a magazine which involved a fight around a railway depot. Ken was very excited by this; we scribbled out a rough map, with a little railway and all that, and we arranged that I would bring my soldiers, rulers and dice down to his flat on Friday evening, and Ken would have the battlefield set up, ready.

When I arrived, on the Friday, I was dumbfounded to find that he had totally ignored our sketch-map and constructed a complete loop of railway, with a station and a tunnel, and a couple of little (modern) trains which were going round and round. Have you ever had a moment when the Universe slips a little? My armies were obviously irrelevant in this setting; I realised that this nice man who had invited me to look at his etchings had an evil plan.

I pointed out - diplomatically - that this was not at all what I had in mind, but it got rather nasty very quickly. He was obviously as disappointed as I was. Storming out was easy, but he was my neighbour, and he snubbed me for the next two years every time our paths crossed. Fair enough - I snubbed him too. In fact we got into a sort of running contest to see who could get his snub in first. Snub Wars.

My wife and I moved away to another house about 4 years later, and some time after that I bumped into him at a friend's wedding. He was quite affable, and asked me was I still doing the "toy soldier thing"; I admitted that I was, and he said he would like to come to one of my games sometime. Gave me his business card. I flushed it down the toilet approximately 15 minutes later. 

I never go out with men who do model railways on a first date.

I still laugh about this. The wargaming context is almost incidental, I suppose, but it rates as one of my classic Tricky Moments - I was young and awkward enough to be upset by it. Nowadays I'm just awkward, so such things don't bother me. 

Anyone like to offer any horror stories?