Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Better than figs

And so to the theatre. Shakespeare's Globe on a warm evening is a very pleasant place to be. I have previously stood as a groundling and now, though glad to have had the experience, I don't. Last night it was Antony and Cleopatra, and rather fine it was too. Eve Best took the role of the strumpet and Clive Wood that of the triple pillar of the world become a fool. I hadn't read anything about the production before and was surprised to find Phil Daniels turn up as Enobarbus. I was very taken with his death scene (this being Jacobean tragedy there is of course a lot of competition). In addition to being well acted it was less ambiguous than some he has been involved in over the years.

"Who seeks, and will not take when once 'tis offer'd, Shall never find it more."

Monday, 28 July 2014

Ragnarøkkr revisited

And so to the theatre. This time it was a maiden visit to the Holbeck Underground Ballroom, which isn't underground or a ballroom, but is, somewhat disappointingly, in Holbeck. The home of Slung Low it is essentially a studio theatre that's not attached to a main theatre if you follow me. It's a back street industrial unit which would otherwise house a car repair business or a metal plating workshop situated just round the corner from the red light area. But don't let me put you off, it's a welcoming space full of old sofas, vegetarian Gujerati food, drinks at a quid each and the theatre operates on a 'see the show, pay what you think it deserves' basis. As an accountant that obviously goes against the grain a bit, but they're all young and idealistic so who am I to rain on their parade? Young, idealistic and in receipt of an Arts Council Grant.

The show in question was Temple Theatre's reworking of Norse Mythology 'Norsesome' wherein three men in beards and frocks portray all the gods in Asgard plus the occasional dweller in one of the middle realms, with the help of a few puppets along the way. It was very funny in places (one highlight was Thor being portrayed in a manner owing more than a little to Rik Mayall's Flashheart) with the casts physicality and energy compensating for the almost complete absence of scenery or props. They tour extensively and it's well worth seeing if you get the chance.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Flying visit

Real life and scorchio have precluded much in the way of wargaming or blogging. However the C&C Napoleonic project just about rumbles on. To recap, the objective was to see if they might be a suitable set of rules for my oddly sized but extensive collection of French, Russian and Prussian Napoleonics. This followed my introduction to their sister rules in the ongoing Punic Wars campaign; the one that has lasted longer than the historical event did in the first place and which is also, for the moment, in hiatus. Even after some cursory solo play testing I'm quite happy with them and so attention turns to the physical environment. My aim was to do a quick and dirty (and cheap) prototype which would be upgraded later, but I found that I quite liked what I had made except for the fact that it was brown. In an unexpected fit of creativity I have addressed that by painting it green.

As Pedro Calderon de la Barca said "Green is the prime colour of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises". Of course he didn't know that was simply because those wavelengths were no use in photosynthesis and that therefore green was actually anything but the most important colour. Still, he was a seventeenth century Spanish playwright, most famous these days for appearing in the Captain Alatriste novels, so what did he know?

Russian militia

I've made some markers to identify what sort of unit each is, It gets a bit difficult to tell the difference between line, light, grenadiers etc, especially given that I painted them years ago. Come to think about it, especially given that I painted them.

'K' is for Old Guard, straight from the painting table and into action

The table is laid out to play the Berezina scenario, but I don't know when I'll play it out as I'm off to the big smoke for a few days. Posts may be intermittent for the next week as I'm not sure exactly how up to speed they are down there with these new technologies.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

"Chh chh-chh, uh, chh chh-chh, uh"

The immortal words of Mungo Jerry reflect the fact that it is bleedin' hot. So bleedin' hot in fact that I have retreated inside for a refreshing beverage and some shady blogging (no Spoonerism intended sadly). Time to update everyone on the battle of Polotsk.

Well, the French won. Again. I know I'm new to this C&C Napoleonics lark, but I haven't got many ideas as to what the Russians could do to win. Draw better cards perhaps. Anyway, I believe my grasp of the rules has improved to a good enough level and I'm developing a sense of what tactics are most rewarding. The latter seems to come down to fire your artillery as often as possible and be aggressive with cavalry. No doubt the purpose of infantry will become clear in due course.

In other news, following the lead set on the Prometheus in Aspic blog I have invested in some Lilliput Lane cottages from a junk shop; or more likely some knock-off imitations. Regardless of their collectability I think they work well enough with the 20mm figures and the squex size. Plus they were cheap. Result all round I think.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Nothing Is Really Hard But To Be Real -

- Now let me tell you why I said that.
Try to put yourself into an experimental mood.
Stop right here and try to review everything
you felt about that line. Did you accept it
as wisdom? as perception? as a gem, maybe,
for your private anthology of Telling Truths?

My point is that the line is fraudulent.
A blurb. It is also relevant that I know
at least a dozen devoutly intellectual
journals that will gladly buy any fourteen
such lines plus a tinny rhyme scheme and
compound the felony by calling that a sonnet.

- Very well, then, I am a cynic. Though, for
the record, let me add that I am a cynic with
one wife, three children, and other invest-
ments. Whoever heard of a cynic carrying a
pack for the fun of it? It won't really do
I'm something else.
Were I to dramatize myself,
I'd say I am a theologian who keeps meeting
the devil as a master of make-up, and that
among his favorite impersonations he appears,
often as not, as the avuncular old ham who winks,
tugs his ear, and utters such gnomic garbage
as: "Nothing is really hard but to be real."

I guess what the devil gets out of this - if he is
the fool he seems to be - is the illusion of
imitating heaven. If, on the other hand, he is no
fool, then his deceptions are carefully practiced
and we are all damned. For all of us, unless
we are carefully warned, will accept such noises
as examples of the sound an actual mind makes.

Why arc we damned then? - I am glad you asked that.
It is, as we say to flatter oafs, a good question.
(Meaning, usually, the one we were fishing for. Good.)
In any case. I may now pretend to think out the answer
I have memorized:
We are damned for accepting as
the sound a man makes, the sound of something else,
thereby losing the truth of our own sound.
How do we
learn our own sound? (Another good question. Thank you.)
- by listening to what men there have been and are
- by reading more poets than jurists (without scorning
Law) - and by reading what we read not for its
oration, but for its resemblance to that sound in which
we best hear most of what a man is. Get that sound into
your heads and you will know what tones to exclude.

- if there is enough exclusion in you to keep the
pie plates out of the cymbals, the tin horns out of
the brass section, the baling wire out of the strings,
and thereby to let the notes roll full to the ear
that has listened enough to be a listener.

As for the devil - when he has finished every impersonation,
the best he will have been able to accomplish
is only that sound which is exactly not the music.

                             - John Ciardi

Friday, 18 July 2014

Et in arcadia ego

 "Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble.
 He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not."
It was Euripides who observed that no one can confidently say that they will be living tomorrow. Shakespeare, through the words he paced in the mouth of Hamlet, explained the implications:
"If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all"

"It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live." - Marcus Aurelius

Thursday, 17 July 2014

"The Best Artists Are Gone Now"

So said Johnny Winter, and now he has gone too. I only saw him once, many years ago at a show a flatmate of mine was filming for the BBC. My friend got me tickets and my brother-in-law and I appeared an awful lot in the crowd cut-aways; viewers must have thought it was a really small audience. Anyway, RIP Johnny.

Here's his take on Dylan's 'Highway 61 Revisited'. Play it loud.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Polotsk revisited

I am still looking at Command and Colours Napoleonics, specifically whether to invest in some hex terrain. Well, being fairly careful with money I have cobbled together a cheapo version - featuring the grid pattern of the moment: the squex - just to check it out a bit more before committing.

I went with Polotsk again for no better reason that it saved me printing off another set of instructions. I opened a different box this time round so the French are fielding some Polish allies. The Russians now have a second proper militia unit straight from the painting table, but are still using mounted jaeger as heavy cavalry. I have switched to using markers to indicate the strength of units rather than losses, but line and light infantry are still differentiated by formation.

Once again I shall run through it solo, mainly as an attempt to get my head round the rules. My previous attempt partly succeeded, but a lot of energy was wasted trying to work around the lack of hexes. The photos are even worse than usual because I misplaced my camera during the Tour de France. And the hills that look like they are paper plates turned upside down and painted green are in fact exactly that; they work rather well for single hex hills.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Murder at Haversham Manor

And so to the theatre. I have been to see 'The Play That Goes Wrong', something that didn't feature in my plans this time last week, but which was getting such good word of mouth reviews that I took a chance. 'Ridiculously funny' was one description and I must say, having seen it, that it's an understatement; it is both genuinely hilarious and extremely clever. Reviews have described it as 'Fawlty Towers' meets 'Noises Off' and you can see where they're coming from, although it is more Cleese than Frayn. My friend the theatre critic of the Morning Star also observantly points out the spirit of Spinal Tap's drummer in one of the characters of the play within the play.

The author and director (of the play this time rather than the play within the play) are never afraid to make the obvious joke, but are also capable of introducing the unexpected. For a production based on slapstick there are also plenty of witty lines. To be honest I can't imagine anyone not finding this funny, and for a farce there are surprisingly few sardines involved; you should go and see it.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Order! Order!

"Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents." - Arthur Schopenhauer

The laydeez love a slaphead

Bertrand Russell thought that Schopenhauer's philosophy was diminished by the latter's propensity to a constant flow of shallow relationships driven by physicality rather than emotion. Personally I can't see anything wrong with living like that provided one doesn't take it to excess like, er, one of my friends. Indeed one of Schopenhauer's insights was to point out that we are biologically conditioned to be attracted to unsuitable mates; a point with which my mate tells me he totally concurs based on his own fairly wide-ranging experience.  In any event, Arthur was right about buying books and, by extension, about buying wargaming figures. It's all very well acquiring them, but that's not quite the same as painting them.

Or a pipe

Consequently, when I moved all my wargaming stuff into the new annexe it naturally included a huge pile of unpainted figures. Of these a relatively small number were scheduled for painting as part of the War of Spanish Succession project while the others were basically just a pile of unpainted figures. With the fall of the WSS into desuetude it was  time for some of those other figures to come to the party. My fallback plan to paint up the figures necessary for the Russian expansion of C&C prompted a trip to the relevant box and retrieval of the appropriate figures; or at least the first part. Admittedly, I did put my hand on a box of Russian Militia and the first unit of such is just about to roll off the production line, but that was it. Nowhere among the vast quantity of nude Napoleonic plastic can one find, for example, Russian heavy cavalry with no cuirasses. And for reasons that, as usual, seemed sensible at the time I made them, I never collected any French guard infantry or artillery. Therefore, for the first time in years, and despite the existing pile of little men shouting "paint me, paint me." an order has been placed and some new figures will soon arrive chez moi (as we still say in Yorkshire one week on from the big event). Then, without fail, they will be painted.

Or a moustache

As Einstein never said "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Tuesday, 8 July 2014


So, another day, another dollar.

I'm not one to complain but the ugly duckling on the right below took a peck at me today.

In possibly the final Tour de France news, I went to  'La Rose et la Couronne' for lunch on Sunday and the landlady told me that she'd sold her first pint of beer at 8 a.m. the previous day. That evening I also happened to pop into 'Le Manoir' (as an aside I really don't drink) and they had sold out of virtually everything; they were almost literally a pub with no beer.

And in wargaming news, I have decided to change my painting plans. (As another aside, I feel that in typing those words I am cementing my place in the brotherhood of wargames bloggers.) As I can't find my existing War of the Spanish Succession figures there doesn't seem to be much point in painting any more. I am therefore going to paint up the units required for the Napoleonic Command and Colours scenarios involving the Russians. First up will be some Russian militia from the Hat set of the same name.

Monday, 7 July 2014

For C.H.

'Crazy' is a term of art; 'Insane' is a term of law. Remember that and you will save yourself a lot of trouble. 
 - Hunter S. Thomson

Mad Girl's Love Song

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)"

- Sylvia Plath

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Le Cirque Arrive et Puis S'en Va

Otley has been preparing for the Tour de France for weeks now, with yellow bicycles popping up everywhere and even the pubs being renamed in French. Nonetheless I was somewhat taken aback when I stepped out of my front door at 7am on the day of le Grand Depart to go to buy the papers and found a group of people on the pavement outside sitting on camping chairs and drinking coffee from Thermos flasks a good five hours before the peloton was due to pass. It steadily grew from there and I doubt if Otley has seen so many people since Cromwell's troops drank dry Le Taureau Noir on their way to fight at Marston Moor.

My house or, as we now say in Yorkshire, chez moi lies directly on the route and so I had a good view of the whole thing, or at least I would have done if it hadn't been for all the other people selfishly blocking my bit of pavement. The main event of the day may be the race, but it rushes past so quickly that there's not much to say about it, and anyway I for one am somewhat cynical about, how can I put this, whether the professional athletes involved have fully embraced the Corinthian spirit. The publicity caravan on the other hand is a spectacle and doesn't pretend to be anything other than grubby and money-making. For some reason watching cars full of grinning and waving young men speeding past followed by police cars with sirens blaring called to mind an amusing episode from many years ago involving an altercation with the special branch bodyguard of then Northern Ireland Secretary Merlyn Rees, only this time with a lot more free promotional merchandise being thrown into the crowd.

The publicity caravan attacks the accessible viewing area with Otley Chevin in the background

In any event, and until I get round to writing up that story, back to le Tour. The spectators weren't entirely sure what to make of the mobile adverts rolling past and some of them didn't get much of a cheer; 'boucherie de veau' anyone? Having said that, a series of floats promoting McCains frozen chips was met with complete indifference as well and they're a Yorkshire company. My own personal favourite was the enormous Robinson's Fruitshoot which resembled nothing so much as the giant tit that escaped in Woody Allen's 'Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask'.

fin de course

So, that was it then. Someone remind me what happens after the Lord Mayor's Show? How about some Johnny Cash.

Friday, 4 July 2014

I am Scipio

Before writing about Scipio's glorious (or ridiculous) victory at the gates of Carthage, just a quick word to say that it's like an ants nest outside the Casa Epictetus: frenzied activity, but everyone seems to know exactly what they are doing. Readers can rest assured that no one can put on a major sporting event like the British.

A fire engine gets stuck under the finish line at this week's Otley Cycle Races

Anyway, Scipio defeated a force three times larger; a fact that made no more sense than his defeat at the hands of a force half his own in the the previous battle. It was a combination of the terrain, the effect of having a higher command number and the allocation of victory points. The three of us involved have different interpretations of the exact issues, but I for one really don't think it's working. We shall certainly be changing the rules for the hastati - redesignating them as medium - but whether the triple acies is reflected in any movement or morale sense is up to James and will come as a surprise next week.

Peter's favourite film

Anyway, I have finished yet another turn in front and have an established - if small - base in North Africa with a reasonable sized force in place to first destroy the Carthaginian field army and then besiege Carthage. That's the plan anyway.

In other news my walls have turned up so a siege is back on the menu. Still missing are my War of the Spanish Succession troops. Regular readers will recognise the irony in this, because I didn't really want to do it in the first place. If ever there was a benefit to being a major Stoic philosopher it is now.

"It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters" - Epictetus the Stoic

Thursday, 3 July 2014

It's coming home

In the unlikely event that you bothered to think about it you may have been anticipating that cycling would soon feature in this blog. Well here it is a bit early; although don't worry, it will be back at the weekend.

Britain's first medallist at the 2012 Olympics

So last night was the Otley Town Centre Races featuring a 2.5 km circuit notable for a steep climb and an equally steep descent, as well as what was billed as the world's largest ice cream van. I could only catch the Women's Elite Race myself because I had an appointment as Scipio Africanus outside the walls of Carthage, of which more in due course. That race resulted in a popular victory for local heroine Lizzie Armistead and was highly entertaining if difficult to photograph.

(A bit of) the grupetto

The sight of so much blood following various crashes reinforced my opinion that actually getting on a bike is not for me, but it's got to be a good thing for other people to do.

"When I see an adult on a bike I do not despair for the future of the human race." - H.G.Wells