Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Judean People's Front

"To rely upon conviction, devotion, and other excellent spiritual qualities; that is not to be taken seriously in politics." - Lenin

One of the minor, incidental pleasures of going to the theatre is watching the contrast as separate audiences for shows in different performance spaces converge and mingle; indeed I have written about it before here. It was with some amusement therefore that I watched the young man trying to sell copies of the Socialist Worker (a) to bemused parties of ladies arriving to see 'Thoroughly Modern Millie' at The Grand in Leeds whilst at the same time shouting (him, not them) "May must go, Corbyn must stay" (b). The reason for this was not some unexpected political message to be found in the musical (although like most love stories it is really about money and the power that goes with it - if you don't believe me then go and watch it again), but because Tariq Ali was speaking on Lenin in the Howard Assembly Rooms, which are attached to the Grand. It was naturally to the latter that I was headed.

The rooms are owned and managed by Opera North and there was a Steinway on stage. I did wonder idly whether the Russian revolution was going to be explained by means of comic song in the style of Richard Stilgoe or, even better, Victoria Wood. However the truth was equally unexpected and just as pleasurable. A pianist appeared and played the first movement from Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata as a sort of warm up, an approach to public speaking of which I heartily approve. Ali was introduced as a public intellectual (no definition of this term was provided) and much of his talk seemed to me to be spent justifying the importance of the intelligentsia in early twentieth century Russia and, by extension, to the modern world as a whole, so perhaps there was an element of theatricality in all this; convincing the audience that we were in the elite because we had listened to a bit of classical music. It worked for me.

Ali's talk was interesting and very wide ranging; indeed it wandered off the advertised subject for long periods. There was a substantial section on Operation Barbarossa for example, with the confident claim made that had Tukhachevsky not been purged by Stalin in 1937 that the German invasion would have been defeated quite quickly. I have no idea on whether that hypothesis has any substance, but I do know that it has bugger all to do with Lenin. Nonetheless, as I say, it was all rather stimulating and thought provoking.

The question and answer session afterwards was, however, a whole different thing. There was a sizeable audience, perhaps a couple of hundred people, many of whom seemed still to be living in the 1970s. The chap who put out the water for the speaker and interlocutor was even wearing a beret in what appeared to be a Wolfie Smith homage. I can't believe that those who spoke from the floor had not seen the famous satire on British Trotskyism in the 'Life of Brian', but they certainly hadn't learned from it. As far as I could make out, in their opinion, all of the world's current problems were caused by Ali's joining the Interntional Marxist Group in 1968, only to be made worse by him leaving the IMG some years later, or possibly it was the other way round. Only two things were clear: I was the only one there who had not come with an agenda to slag off the speaker, and that everything - and I mean everything - was his fault. It was all truly bizarre, although I must say that it also somewhat nostalgic for anyone with any experience of how far left groups carried on back in the day .

Wolfie was of course prone to shouting 'power to the the people' at inappropriate times. John Lennon's 1971 song of the same name was inspired by a meeting with Tariq Ali. Everything is connected.

(a) It has been a long, long time since a photograph of your bloggist last featured in the pages of the Socialist Worker. For those suffering withdrawal symptoms I can be found in the current spring edition of the One Traveller newsletter, New Horizons; less hair is involved on this occasion.

(b) With a bit more imagination he could have made that slogan rhyme.

Friday, 21 April 2017

It's Friday Night, Got To Go Home Now

As proof that people can reappear in one's life as well as disappear, I have heard from one of my closest friends at school (for our US readers I really mean school and not university) after a gap of many years. This has brought some sadness - inevitably bad things as well as good have happened in a couple of decades - but also some amusing coincidences. We shared many interests back in those days. I think I may have mentioned before that I played keyboards in the worst band of all time; Don was the bass player. Of more relevance is that he and Charlie (Charlie was the drummer) were my first wargaming opponents, using - naturally - Donald Featherstone's rules from the local library's copy of Advanced Wargames. I seem to remember refighting Waterloo as part of his CSE History project, although I also remember it being rigged so that Napoleon would win.

Anyway, it seems that in retirement he has returned to the one true hobby and spookily was already a fan of the blog. Not this blog obviously, that would be beyond coincidence even as we students of the higher mathematics interpret the word. No, he is a follower of James' blog, in common with the rest of the wargaming world. What I'm not clear about is why he didn't spot me in the photos of the legendary wargames room, after all I have hardly aged a bit in the last forty years.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

We marched them up to the top of the hill

In the manner of a Donald Trump armada the Battle of Möckern did not turn out exactly as billed. Some unspecified bacterial unpleasantness has broken out in the vicinity of the legendary wargames room and James was prevented from leaving his house by crowds of pitchfork-waving locals shouting "Unclean! Unclean!".  I myself have my own troubles - in addition to the still ongoing effect of recent events - in that the boiler is on the blink. A plumber has been, but departed muttering about a spare part. Before he came there was no heating, now there is no hot water either; I suppose that is progress of a sort.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017


We are intending to try Epic C&C Napoleonics this evening so the obvious thing to do was to confuse myself by having a first go at Memoir '44: Overlord. The confusion came in two parts. The games obviously belong to the same family, but in Memoir unit effectiveness depends on range and not strength while the opposite is true in Napoleonics. And while both Epic and Overlord are played on an area twice as wide as the original they use different approaches. Epic is one player a side with the playing area divided into three, whereas Overlord is teams (we had three a side) with the playing area divided into three and then each third into halves. So there was much confusion the other night - on my part, everyone else was fine - and no doubt there will be tonight.

As for Overlord itself, I'm not sure that I'll be in a rush to play it again. Last time we played a WWII game I complained that there was too much fiddly detail. So let me immediately lay myself open to a charge of inconsistency by saying that I don't find Memoir '44 detailed enough. On top of which, the role of a subsidiary commander seemed a bit dull to me. Because we had three people on a team the commander of the central section doubled up as overall C-in-C. I played one game in that role and while it was definitely more interesting I didn't feel that their was any enhanced enjoyment from having someone else carry out - or not - one's intentions. The mechanic of only passing over one card (or at most two) at a time means that there isn't scope for plans to go wildly wrong if you are the C-in-C or to act with any independence if you are not. The lack of Battle Back in close assault (another difference between the two games) also means that one can spend quite a bit of time not actually doing anything. I don't think there was ever much chance of playing the Napoleonic equivalent of Overlord, mainly because I don't have six (let alone eight) friends, but this hasn't prompted me to want to try.

One other thing I tried for the first time was swapping sides and refighting the game to see who won on aggregate. I'd always felt that this would be a good idea because none of the scenarios are particularly balanced. However there is a very cheesy flaw. First time round we were the Germans and won the scenario (I think it was Omaha Beach although I wasn't involved in setting the board up) 8-0; you can see what I mean about the scenarios being a bit one-sided. Therefore as US commander when we refought it all I had to do was ensure that we destroyed one German unit in order to win overall. And so that's what I did - accepted that we couldn't win the battle but went all out to take out a unit. In the end we lost that round 8-3, but won overall because we didn't make any attempt to actually get off the beach. I'm not sure I found that terribly satisfying.

Anyway, back to 1813: