Thursday, 28 November 2013


The previous week had seen the quick end of James as the Prussians, bridge unblown, and then the restart of the same game (minor rule variations always excepted) with Peter potentially facing the wrath of Frederick. This time it had got off to a slow start and my second Russian command hadn’t yet arrived. The continuation was very different except in one respect; the Russian second command still didn’t arrive. 

Your bloggist in action
To enter required the turning of the Stratagem card twice and we didn’t even manage it once. Perhaps the rather knackered Heavy Cavalry brigade weren’t missed much, but the grenadiers certainly were. In their absence the Prussians were able to concentrate all their fire on the first Russian command and essentially annihilate them, aided by some terrible rolls in cavalry melee by James and some dreadful domino drawing by me. The bridge was prepared and heroically blown with the requisite number of Prussian stands having got across. 

Peter in action
There was plenty of time to set up again, this time with me as the Prussians and with Peter back on the Russian side going for three victories out of three. I am very happy with the way that my infantry have rolled up – one is average and the rest better – but I have a poor commander and I have a nasty feeling that my initial dispositions don’t suit the entry points chosen by my opponents. We shall see.
James in action

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

How can a poor man stand such times and live?

Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings obviously weren't sufficient in the way of geriatric British bluesmen and so it was off to the King's Hall to see 'The Blues Band'. Not that front man Paul Jones - of the Radio 2 Rhythm & Blues show - looked all that old and he managed a few more high kicks than I'd like to try. Tom McGuinness however did, even when rather showily playing his guitar behind his head.

I've been listening to Jones' show for so long that I am one of those who believe it should never have moved from Thursday at 8pm (and that must have happened around ten years ago) so it was slightly disconcerting to hear his speaking voice in a different context. His singing voice and harmonica style were of course familiar. The band played mostly stuff from old blues guys - Elmore James, Son House, Slim Harpo, Howlin' Wolf and the like, but also songs by Dylan, Ry Cooder and, unexpectedly for me anyway, Gil Scott Heron. They were excellent, as will be of no surprise to anyone, and I invested in a Best Of CD to while away the commute.

The King's Hall Ilkley will not be televised

The only downside to the evening was an appearance on stage by the publicity junkie Anne Hawkesworth, a name which will mean nothing to those outside Bradford, but which is all too familiar to those in Ilkley. Thankfully there is one blog from which she is forever barred.


Monday, 25 November 2013


As part of last Friday's JFK commemoration Radio 2 ran a three hour programme reflecting minute by minute the period between the motorcade starting through Dallas and the swearing in of LBJ. I started listening because I was driving, but actually found myself enjoying its blend of reportage, analysis and music. There was a particularly affecting version of 'Abraham, Martin and John' (the song from which the title of the relevant blog posting came) by David McAlmont. My one complaint would be the continual references to it as 'the day the world grew up'. Considering that most people alive in November 1963 had lived through WWII this description was plainly ridiculous and cliched. Whatever the effect of that day it's hard to imagine it comparing with the dropping of the first atom bomb.

I normally restrict my boardgame comments to games played but I have to mention that I've bought a copy of Mush!Mush!. This is for no better reason than to print the following photograph of your bloggist mushing away like a good'un.
That's me at the back

And it's about time we resurrected the great debate about the sun. What better way than associating it with common sense?

Sunday, 24 November 2013

More reserve undemolition

As we resumed the game James was quick to poo-poo my concept that what we were playing was actually an old school game. His convincingly argued point was that what really distinguished the old school were the incompleteness of their rules with common situations on the tabletop not covered and having to be be settled by 'wargamers common sense'; a resource often in short supply. I stand corrected and won't confuse things like that again.

Anyway, the conclusion of 'Reserve Demolition' produced the expected outcome. If you recall The Prussians started the evening with no morale and in fact James threw in the towel almost at once before, er, carrying on. It didn't do him any good because his units were destroyed one after the other. The standout among them were the engineers on the bridge itself who, despite a somewhat dodgy officer, fought valiantly and destroyed a regiment of Russian cavalry before running away in the face of a second. They hadn't primed the explosives, but then Frederick hadn't sent word anyway.

The early finish allowed us to reset it and start again. This time James commands the Russians and Peter the Prussians. I am the in charge of the second Russian command which hasn't as yet turned up, but in any case contains what seems to be the most useless of heavy cavalry brigades. Not much has happened except that we've managed to lose our howitzers, which may come back to haunt us.

Gone, gone, gone

An interesting point arose in this second game when the Russians wanted to interpenetrate cavalry through infantry and it became apparent that the rules didn't cover that particular aspect of things. It didn't matter though because we settled it by the application of a bit of common sense; that's the modern way of doing it.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Should we be more stoic?

Obviously I don't mean me. That wouldn't really be possible now would it. The Shrink & The Sage column in the FT magazine today features a debate as to whether we should be more stoic. And so they should; indeed so should all the other newspapers. Every day. Some aspects of the column are not quite to my taste. Philosopher Julian Baggini avers that 'given more than two millennia have elapsed since the Stoics developed their ideas, it would seem especially off to relight their torch and carry it through the streets of our modern cities'. One wouldn't expect Epictetus - the stoics' stoic - to buy that one; and the international Olympic Committee don't appear to be listening either.

Better is the view from Antonia Macaro who says "The broad message is to think rationally, examine our emotions and challenge our assumptions about what has value.". I couldn't have put it more eloquently myself. Well, perhaps I could have. Let's see if she is still quoted in two thousand years time. But for a beginner, that's not bad.

"First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak" - Epictetus the Stoic

Friday, 22 November 2013

But I just looked around and he was gone

To a seven year old boy there was no doubt as to which of the two events that weekend was the more important. Dr Who quickly became an obsession with me and remained so for many years. We're all supposed to have 'our' doctor and mine is and always has been William Hartnell.

However, in all the commemorations in the media it is to the assassination of JFK that I have been drawn. Not that I have a terribly high regard for the man. As, ironically enough, he himself said  "The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived and dishonest - but the myth - persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.". But I do recall well the events of that night. It's not my earliest memory. I can remember the Cuban missile crisis; now that was scary. Rather I can recall my father - a man with no interest in politics or current affairs - being genuinely moved as he tried to explain to my sister and I what had happened.

And it is for that, for the memory of my long dead father that it brings to mind, that I have been an attentive audience for the anniversary programmes. Unlike Kennedy he has left no permanent mark on the public record and after my sister and I are dead he will be forgotten. Brief and ephemeral as they may be these moments when I can see him again, even if it is only in my mind, are precious to me.

Thursday, 21 November 2013


This week’s walking with the yummies (actually a rather different subset of them) took us along the Wharfe to Addingham (where we had a very civilised stop for tea and cake in aid of an African charity; all walks should have something similar organised) and then across and back on the north side of the river, past the Stations of the Cross at Middleton and then through the woods and back down into Ilkley for lunch. The lunchtime conversation was thankfully less solipsistic than the previous week.

The White Swan on Sunday saw half a dozen turn out and run through games of Tsouro, Citadels and Ice Flow. Even I am always surprised by just how enjoyable Ice Flow is and this game proved no exception. Rather unusually a number of polar bears appeared together in a row on flows close to the northern coast of Alaska and it was a long time before four or five of the explorers managed to leave land at all. Also unusually I didn’t win.

It would appear that my reader from the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (pictured above) has reappeared. To him I say “Svo er hægt að lesa á íslensku þá getur þú? “.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

For the young ones won't be young ones very long

I have been to the City Varieties to see Ade Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds, in whom I was rather disappointed. My understanding had been that they played folk versions of punk songs, but actually they played punk songs on folk instruments, which is a rather different thing. The band consisted of violin, mandolin (I think), bouzouki with occasional pipes.  

The two songs that responded best to this treatment were, as it happens, both by the Sex Pistols. The drone of the pipes framed the nihilism (alright the pseudy, play-acting nihilism) of ‘Anarchy in the UK’ very well and ‘God Save the Queen’ was declaimed by Edmondson in a sort of half-spoken, poetry reading style that both reflected its structure and in fact matched Lydon’s delivery in the original. Not of course that I am suggesting it is poetry per se. “We’re the flowers in the dustbin, we’re the poison in your human machine”. I don’t think so.

However, when they covered, for example, the Ramones all it did was remind me how brilliant the originals were when I saw them at the Rainbow on, I think, New Year's Eve 1977. Gabba Gabba Hey!. High point musically of the Bad Shepherds set was a version of ‘Shipbuilding’, not, as you will have spotted, a punk song, but rather one written with the intent that it be interpreted by different artists, in different styles and whose lyrics – described by Elvis Costello as the best that he ever wrote – are certainly poetry.

I was there

So, all in all a bit of a let down, notwithstanding some fine, crude banter between songs by the self-styled “bloke off the telly”. And there were a large number of empty seats for a sold-out gig.

Monday, 18 November 2013


And so to the theatre. The West Yorkshire Playhouse was the venue for Headlong Theatre’s interpretation of 1984. I didn’t anticipate a bundle of laughs, and so it proved. Orwell’s prophetic (a population always under surveillance through screens, the mass of the people kept subservient and amused by manufactured entertainment, internal oppression justified by constant conflict overseas and exaggerated threat of terrorism at home) and gloomy (“the future is a boot stamping on a human face forever”) satire/warning was as disturbing as ever. 

Headlong bill themselves as a digital company and I had rather wondered what that meant. Well, simply enough it means that they use lots of video. Indeed some quite important parts of the action (those in the back room of the antiques shop) took place off stage and were relayed and projected. The staging was also excellent in more conventional ways with a clever coup de theatre when Winston Smith was taken in for interrogation. Also clever was the use of the book’s often overlooked (and in some senses cheerful) appendix to create a device where Smith’s diaries were framed as being read by a book group – a fairly fatuous book group at that.

So an excellent production. If I have a gripe it is about the source material. The first part of the book, in which the dystopian vision of IngSoc, two minute hates and newspeak is unfolded, is of the highest class. But I have never really bought into the second part: brainwashing, betrayal and rats in Room 101. Why didn’t they just shoot him – and her come to that? Given the unpersonning of various other characters along the way then why invest all that time in Smith?

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Is this 'Old School' I see before me?

One of the ironies of moving – albeit possibly only temporarily – to Ilkley, throbbing hub of Wharfedale wargaming, is that I have played substantially fewer games than when I lived in my central Leeds bachelor pad. However, last night it was back round to James’ for some Seven Years War Piquet. The full details together with loads of photos can be seen on the Olicanalads blog so I will be brief.
'To blow or not to blow?'
Apparently the week before, on the first attempt at the scenario using standard Piquet, the game was ‘turgid’ and seems to have been abandoned fairly early and without any reluctance. James took the only route he knows to improve things and changed the rules, being careful to leave a few typos in movement distances and base dice to add some spice. The resulting mélange of Piquet and FoB worked a treat, probably at least in part to the relatively small number of units and to the period being played.
The world according to Roach
My own part in the evening’s proceedings was as the Russian c-in-c. The transition to 18th century linear horse and musket tactics from blowing up Crusader tanks with an 88mm in the western Desert proved somewhat problematic. I underestimated the effect the Prussian artillery would have on my cavalry and then I underestimated the effect the Prussian cavalry would have on my artillery. I followed all this up by marching to point blank range before initiating a firefight with one unit of my grenadiers, which naturally led to there not being many of them left to enjoy their first fire bonus. However, in the finest tradition of the Russian army the second unit got stuck in with the bayonet and stands in control of the southern hill.

Considering the nature of the scenario there has been relatively little sapping so far. I can’t see the bridge being blown, certainly not before the Prussian army flees under the double onslaught of the second Russian command (just arrived, but already causing casualties and being handled by Peter with slightly more aplomb than my lot) and them not having any morale chips left.
Presumably you would all concur that I have kept my opinions of old school wargaming to myself until now. But, can I make a wild assertion; this game was, in essence, old school, but without the boring rules. It was adapted from a Charles Grant scenario book (look at James' blog to see which book and indeed which Charles Grant), was set in the eighteenth century, and was bloody good fun. Notwithstanding the cards, dominoes, figures grouped on stands, and even a mysterious D16 appearing at one point, the spirit of the game would I think have been instantly recognisable to the founding fathers of the hobby.