Saturday, 28 March 2015

Milton Keynes ain't much of a town

And it hasn't been much of a week here at the Casa Epictetus, with no wargaming and no boardgaming. I have been both to Milton Keynes and to Birmingham Airport, but can think of nothing interesting to say about either. So instead, let's take a look at Janita's belly button.

She really did used to dance like that on stage. Happy days.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Pass it on

And so to the theatre. I have been to a very fine performance of 'The History Boys', written of course by the thankfully-still-with-us Alan Bennett. I've seen the play in the theatre before, as well as having watched the film, and admire it for many reasons. Its ability to transcend being set in the 1980s without any references to that decade - indeed with all the detail about Oxbridge entrance being well out of date even at that time - and still not annoy even the most pedantic members of the audience (i.e. me) shows how dramatically strong it is. Plus it addresses the value or otherwise of the various ways of engaging with culture. Does one allow it inside oneself, to change one as an individual slowly over time, or does one simply acquire 'gobbets' to be regurgitated to impress?

Not dead yet

Salvador Dali disparaged the performing arts because of their ephemeral nature. It has been suggested that Bennett was in this play drawing a parallel between history and theatre; both existing only for a moment and then living on solely in the memories of those who witnessed it and what they pass on to others. I think that, in its own small way, wargaming is also like that. I shall in future classify my opponents into the Lintott-like sticklers for fact, the Irwin-like cynical win-at-all-cost types and, my own clear preference, the poetic Hectors (minus the ball-cradling obviously).

A dog in a hat

There has been some comment on your bloggist's tendency to include passages and quotations in foreign languages, and his possible motivations for so doing (1). The History Boys contains a longish scene early in the first act which is entirely in French. Bennett clearly sees no need to translate or explain and it didn't seem to affect the enjoyment of the audience last night. Discuss.

(1) For once Monsieur Fwa is incorrect; I don't do it to annoy. I do it because I am a superficial pseudo-intellectual regurgitating my gobbets.

Friday, 20 March 2015


"Ein Optimist ist ein Mensch, der ein Dutzend Austern bestellt, in der Hoffnung, sie mit der Perle, die er darin findet, bezahlen zu können." - Theodore Fontane


But that's enough about the budget. And the solar eclipse was just as bad. It's tough being a blogger sometimes. I have just received a very nice compliment from this blog's faithful though irregular reader in Luxembourg. If only he knew the struggle I go through. Within the last few weeks there was a period where so little happened that I had to resort to writing about the wok that I bought for £1.50. And as a digression I have to say that the non-stick coating on that wok has turned out to be not of the highest quality. But today I am so replete with things to write about I don't even have to mention the disaster that I just had with a jar of pickled onions.

Instead I am going to briefly cover Wednesday's game of C&C Napoleonics where we tried out the Prussian expansion by playing the Großbeeren scenario. Or rather because Peter got all the right cards - especially a series of Bombard cards - and rolled all the right dice we never really discovered how the new rules worked. It's still a good game though. Indeed I have it on reasonably reliable authority that Charles Grant plays nothing else. Stick that, old schoolers.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Tales of old Dartmoor

That's an obscure title for a blog posting even by my standards. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne would understand. In any event I feel the urge for a boardgame round-up.

Cuthulhu Fluxx: Fluxx is a game that's fascinating the first couple of times that you play it and then gets dreary. I don't understand fantasy in general or H.P. Lovecraft in particular. Enough said.

Trains: This is a bit like Dominion with a board and with, well, trains. I'm not a particular fan of deck-builders, but this was as good as any I've played.

Eight Minute Empire: It actually lasted about twenty minutes, but it provided a good game for five of us. I'd play it again.

One Minute Unltimate Werewolf Daybreak: Which is the same old stuff, but with extra chrome (Alpha Wolf, Paranormal Investigator). Someone had brought in a loudspeaker to play their smartphone through. Strangely this didn't make it any better.

6 nimmt!: I like this, and don't understand why people think it's random; they're just not playing it properly.

Rococo: A nice game with all sorts of mechanics that mesh together well. My only quibble is that it is very difficult to work out who's winning whilst playing. It's about dressmaking and - please remember that logic doesn't always apply in these circumstances - I won essentially by making the most dresses.

Skull: Another game that I like. My logic was impeccable on every turn and yet somehow I failed to call people's bluff correctly. I'm not sure how that works.

R-Eco: We played this with the same rules (the correct rules?) for the second time running and it's growing on me. If you do try it then bear in mind that it's a very low scoring game when making decisions.

The Secret of Monte Cristo: Firstly this game has some lovely components - the marbles and the jewel value markers - and some really tatty ones - especially the jewel placement markers. Any heaviness in this game comes from placing one's marble after the end of one's turn, but my impression was that the number of possible outcomes makes it all so complex as to actually be far more luck than skill. It does however have my new favourite feature: in-game scoring on a track with a clear victory target. By the way, the game has nothing whatever to do with the story in the book.

It is also some time since I posted a photo of me on top of Haw Pike surrounded by women of a certain age. So here goes.

I'm a little teapot

Sunday, 15 March 2015

He got a real pretty mouth ain't he?

I have been too busy behaving badly to give this blog the attention it deserves. ["Tell me," asks the Rhetorical Pedant, missing the point as usual "does that mean you only write it when you're bored?"; to which the only reply necessary is a snort of haughty derision] However, I find myself on a Sunday evening with time weighing heavily on my hands and nothing better to do and so here's a catch-up post.

Nimrat Kaur

James has still been in wargaming limbo - although he is in regions even more remote this weekend having gone off to Scotland to mingle with the great and good of wargaming - and so Peter and I had a few games of X-Wing. I was rather taken with it, being by and large a fan of simple mechanics. I have never seen any of the Star Wars films so can't really comment on the theme and my lack of engagement with popular culture caused me some problems with interpreting what was written on the cards. It was a very pleasant evening, although I do think that the Target Lock action is a bit over-powerful. Normal service should be resumed next week with a look at the fourth expansion of C&C Napoleonics, the Prussians.

Green Bartley

Culturally, I belatedly caught up with 'The Lunchbox' which, while finding a tad close to home, I really enjoyed. And then it was on to see Gren Bartley and his band. Fortunately the heated argument I had with Mr Bartley during the interval, and which continued after the gig finished, didn't in any way diminish my enjoyment of the performance. The subject under contention was the attractiveness - or otherwise - of the music of the banjo. For the record, I side with Mark Twain who of course defined a gentleman as someone who knew how to play the banjo, but didn't. Don't let any of that put you off, the banjo only features on one song and the band - who showcase more palatable instruments such as cello, guitar, violin, piano and percussion as well as terrific vocal harmonies - are excellent.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015


My mug - see postings passim - has arrived. It is too good to actually use and now resides in my trophy cabinet next to my award for being Yorkshire Interim Finance Director of the Year, 2011; and very little else. A small wargaming context is provided by the adjacent Mambise flagbearer that I bought in Havana's only model soldier shop. Given the concern expressed by General Fwa over the likelihood of the mug being transported without damage it is ironic to note that it is in pristine condition while both award and figure are much knocked about.

Peter and I returned to Richard III last week having familiarised ourselves with the rules the previous week. I was once again much impressed by the game, despite receiving a fairly sound thrashing. It deserves a proper review; but it's not going to get one. Suffice it to say that Peter recognised the importance of persuading nobles in the other faction to switch sides earlier than I did. The Yorkists took two campaigns as invading pretenders to seize the throne, but after that they were never going to be removed. Henry VI was reduced to making vain, and historically implausible, heroic battlefield charges.

Other boardgames played recently include:

  • Abluxxen: Enjoyed it, but have no idea what strategy to follow
  • Archipelago: A fairly heavy game. In theory, although not practice, it's semi-cooperative. I think I'd get more out of it on a second run through, especially the range of possible victory criteria.
  • Red7: I really like this.
  • One Night Ultimate Werewolf: I don't really like this. I feel even more stupid than usual sitting in the pub with my eyes closed listening to an American voice on someone's smartphone pretentiously intoning drivel - including the truly ridiculous "Insomniac, wake up".
 Musically, it's all been a bit folk and roots. The Luke Daniels Trio were showcasing their leader's own songs, but for me the most memorable moment was their version of 'Baker Street' with the iconic saxophone replaced by melodeon. Diamond Dac, playing in aid of the local food bank, are also a trio, this time of fairly mature chaps playing fairly mature music. Still, there is nothing wrong with a repertoire heavily biased towards Mississippi John Hurt with smatterings of Big Bill Broonzy and Blind Boy Fuller.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

The best words in the best order...

...was Coleridge's definition of poetry. T.S. Eliot said that poetry wasn't a career, but rather it was a mug's game. In my own small way I have provided some evidence for the latter aphorism. I have been awarded a mug in a competition over at MS Fwa's blog for composing some doggerel.

A chap with a beard

I have now won two prizes in wargaming competitions in my time and in neither case have I had to demonstrate any knowledge of, or proficiency in, wargaming. Which is just as well really.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Мы отдохнем, мы отдохнем

And so to the theatre. The West Yorkshire Playhouse has a new production of an old play, Chekhov's 'Uncle Vanya'. I'd never seen it before and came away somewhat baffled. On the surface it appears to be about a group of Russian bourgeoisie getting bored, drinking and carrying on frustrated, unconsummated love affairs while the peasants do all the work. On closer inspection that's pretty much all it seems to be about underneath as well.

It's possible that Chekhov is expounding the sort of existentialist argument being made elsewhere at the time, or possibly he is drawing a moral about the dignity of work. More likely I suspect he was just painting a mood; what the Russians call настроение. Does anyone remember listening to 'tone poems' which to a philistine like me simply meant a piece of music with no tune? This is a play with no narrative arc - despite quite extravagant and theatrical things happening. The Reduced Shakespeare Company apparently did a three-line version of the play - it can be found in its entirety on the play's Wikipedia page - which I think falls into the category 'cruel, but fair'.

I went to a preview and afterwards my friend the theatre critic of the Morning Star tweeted me to ask what she could expect on press night. Given the likely political views of her readers - they'd have to be pretty hard core tankies to still be hanging in there - I would imagine that seeing it for themselves they'd just see it as confirmation that the 1917 revolution was both necessary and overdue. And on this issue at least I would agree with them.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Mi piace, è bello, bello

And so to the opera. Opera North have laid on a fine double dose of verismo with two short pieces by Falla and Puccini.

I'd seen this production of 'La vida breve' about ten years ago and it remains, I think, the only opera sung in Spanish that I have ever been to. It's staged in a garment factory rather than a metalworks, but is still a cautionary tale based on the age old truism: it's the rich wot gets the pleasure, it's the poor wot gets the pain. Obviously feeling that the libretto doesn't sufficiently cover discrimination against Gyspies there is another such sub-plot acted out in mime. It's all very gory and rather excellent with moral clearly being that one woman at a time is sufficient. Let us all take note.

After the interval we heard 'Gianni Schicchi', Puccini's only comedy and despite knowing that fact I found myself surprised that it was rather funny. Based on a throwaway incident in 'The Divine Comedy' it deals with greed rather than the lust at the heart of Falla's work. I've actually seen the trickery employed by the eponymous lawyer used in action myself on more than one occasion, so as opera plots go, it's not that far fetched.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom

I went to the Flying Duck last night to see the rather fine Alex Graham and the Concords. They are a piano trio plus vocalist playing rock and roll (the expected Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis plus Chuck Berry, Elvis, Carl Perkins etc) with a smattering of more modern stuff from Queen, T. Rex and so on (I said more modern, I didn't say modern per se), all in a boogie woogie stylie. Highly recommended.

After the gig one of the yummy mummies of Ilkley told me that the band were all students at Leeds College of Music. In one of those coincidences beloved of this blog I had the previous day been to that very institution and whilst I can't confirm that either Alex or the Concords are students there, I can advise that they look as if they might be - four very young men in skinny trousers with hipster beards. I'm glad to say that they eschewed the ponytails though. The college shares a building with BBC Leeds and, more importantly, the Aagrah restaurant. Strangely I haven't yet been summoned in to the former to share my worldview with the good people of West Yorkshire and so apart from numerous visits to the latter - which don't really count - this was my first time inside since it was a construction site. On that occasion I was showing our new audit partner a 'typical' project. Apart from its central location the reason for choosing the College/BBC building as a showcase was that of the two managing engineers (electrical and mechanical) one was a woman and one was black. Possibly you won't be surprised that they were the only ones of either type that we employed across dozens of jobs.

Anyway, my reason for visiting on this occasion was to hear Ed Miliband and Ed Balls speak. [Oh no, it's politics - there go the readers again] on the subject of university tuition fees and, although not much reported in the media, improving opportunities for all young people. I will limit myself to saying that ensuring that everyone in society gets a fair crack of the whip is the primary issue on which I will base my vote in two months time (taking as a prerequisite an aversion to invading other countries on the basis of dodgy dossiers), because I would prefer a society in which there is genuine meritocratic diversity rather than the need to pretend that it exists by a bit of window dressing.