Saturday, 28 May 2016

I Guess A Man's Got To Do What He's Best At

A couple of posts ago I noted that I had some hot wargaming action to report on, but I can't for the life of me imagine to what I was referring, so we're back to music again. I have been to see Ian Siegal and Jimbo Mathus play some acoustic blues. I've seen the former before when he was backed by the Mississippi Mudbloods featuring the rather excellent Cody and Luther Dickinson, but not on that occasion Alvin Youngblood Hart. It was only three years ago or so but I don't seem to have written it up in this blog at the time. For the record: the band were excellent; I was accompanied by a rather delightful French lady that I used to knock about with (inexplicably only now making her first appearance in the blog); and the council/police closed the venue down almost immediately afterwards. It was through the Dickinson brothers that Siegal met Mathus, himself from Mississippi and a man with strong connections to the history of the blues. Indeed his childhood nanny was Rosetta Patton, daughter of Charley Patton, the man who taught Robert Johnson to play and Chester Burnett to sing. Siegal, who does a nice Howlin' Wolf type vocal tribute, comes from the deep south of Hampshire rather than the delta and tells the story of how the locals in the Mississippi hill country, having trouble pronouncing his first name, gave him a nickname based on his place of origin: 'Overseas' Siegal. Knowledge of the rest of the world has never been a strength among Americans in my experience.

Musically, they covered a wider range than strictly the blues, indeed they equaled Tom Russell's record of playing two songs referencing Pancho Villa in the lyrics; these being Russell's own 'Gallo del Cielo' and Steve Earle's 'Mercenary Song'. From the folk canon they gave us 'Casey Jones' and, of all things, 'Dirty Old Town'.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Thought for the day

"...most of all I'm scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I'm with you." - Frances Houseman

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Back on the Gambrelli case!

The late Burt Kwouk was of course too good an actor to be solely remembered for the Pink Panther films. Indeed he had previously acted alongside Epictetus' all time favourite film star. However, this blog has never been afraid of the obvious.

Sunday, 22 May 2016


I can't remember why I took up blogging in the first place, boredom presumably. Due to other boredom induced activities my life was disrupted somewhat shortly afterwards and writing the blog became a bit of vaguely creative light relief. It subsequently developed into a way of clandestinely communicating with an agent of mine currently operating undercover; I think the term is 'a sleeper'.  Now it's turning into a vehicle for my OCD, whereby nothing can really have happened to me unless I include it here despite the fact that even I'm not terribly interested in hearing about it. Should I resist this? Obviously. Will I resist this? Obviously not. Therefore before we can crack on with anything else - and I have a bit of hot wargaming action to report on - I need to get all this stuff off my chest. Here goes:

Music: I have seen Nick B. Hall and the Resurrection Men (previously lauded here for their belting cover of Senor, Tales of Yankee Power), Dr Bob and the Bluesmakers (as excellent as ever; Maria was in fine voice) and The Jar Family. I went to the last of these on spec and, let's be honest, because the venue reduced the price to a fiver. However, I must report that they were bloody superb, to the extent that in a rush of blood I bought two of their CDs afterwards. They're on a UK tour and I urge anyone who gets a chance to see them to take it. They describe themselves as folk/blues/psych and to me were a melange of Dylan/Lindisfarne/Traffic. Top stuff.

Theatre: Or possibly music again. I saw 'Woody Sez', a play-with-music come music-with-a-bit-of-acting. It's about Woody Guthrie and the facts of his life can't help but make the thing poignant. I enjoyed it and so did the rest of the sadly small audience.

Days out: I have been to Fountains Abbey with the younger Miss Epictetus and the dog; and I have been to the Otley Show with the elder Miss Epictetus and the dog. The dog, far from being grateful, has left muddy paw prints all across my living room carpet. It will not be invited anywhere by me again. I avoided losing my #newnotnew camera at the Otley Show by the simple and foolproof method of not taking it with me. I am unable once again therefore to bring you photographs of the Young Farmers Ladies Tug-of-War competition, which will be disappointing for any among you who like voluptuous women getting a sweat on.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

I knew Sidi Rezegh. Sidi Rezegh was a friend of mine. You're no Sidi Rezegh.

"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." - Salvador Dali

I have been avoidably absent from blogging, but not from wargaming. We have concluded a first playtest of Lobositz, the Seven Years War scenario that James intends to put on at Derby in October. I've helped him with a few such games over the last couple of years and he is very thorough in his preparation. If it was me I'd simply lay out the superbly painted figures and wonderful terrain, which, let's face it, are what wins the best-in-show accolades. (Obviously I am painfully well aware that if it were me then the figures wouldn't actually be superbly painted and the terrain wouldn't be wonderful either.) In particular, when refighting a historical battle James is keen to make it both accurate and a good game. These objectives wouldn't generally sit well together in the first place, but things are made even worse by his tendency to choose battles which involved one side making attacks that don't make any sense in hindsight. Playtesting is therefore quite a lot about figuring out how to constrain the tabletop commanders into repeating at least some of their real life predecessors' mistakes while setting victory conditions that give both sides a chance. The process can be, and often is, fun; just don't mention Sidi Rezegh.

How well this works can be judged by the fact that when playing Marignano at Derby last year we had to abandon things after the first day and restart because it wasn't going anywhere. And then there was Sidi Rezegh - which obviously we won't mention - where, after being playtested to death and beyond, a guest commander was recruited for the convention itself and his decisions turned out to be somewhat sub-optimal. So, with no great expectations on my part, we have been trying to engineer a game where Frederick the Great faces superior numbers, charges his cavalry against artillery and entrenched infantry, attacks with his own infantry through entirely unsuitable terrain against specialist light infantry, runs away himself when things start to get tough and yet somehow retains a chance of victory.

Anyway, I rather enjoyed it, despite not actually winning as such. The attack through the vineyards on the slope of the volcano caught my imagination for some reason and the swings of luck (usually) inherent in Piquet made even the Prussian cavalry charge less of a disaster than it looked likely to be at one point. I think the scenario revisions to be implemented following the post game debrief plus the tactical lessons learned will make it play better next time. I doubt anyone else will notice, but it looks good so they'll all be happy anyway. Which is probably as it should be.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Idleness is the parent of psychology

 "If you're old, don't try to change yourself, change your environment." - B.F. Skinner
If you're old, don't try to change yourself, change your environment. B. F. Skinner
Read more at:
If you're old, don't try to change yourself, change your environment. B. F. Skinner
Read more at:

And so to the theatre. "Opening Skinner's Box" is not so much a play as a dramatisation of a non-fiction book about psychology or, as far as I could tell from the two hours, a book by a narcissistic female American author about herself with a bit of psychology and psychiatry to pad it out. It doesn't matter - I shan't be reading it.

I found the second act far more interesting than the first. I suspect that's because I knew far less about the experiments portrayed. Both Skinner and Milgram are on every managerial psychology course going, and believe me I've sat through a few of those. They made a big deal of the latter in particular, presumably with the hope of shocking the audience. But any feelings of surprise and disturbance that I once had have faded away through repeated exposure to the original studies and to having lived in the world as it is for so long; all of which is perhaps somewhat ironic. But the in the second part, there was much with which I am far less familiar - such as the work of Loftus on false memory and of Alexander on addiction - and so I found it more stimulating.

As a theatrical experience it was fairly ordinary. The cast rotated the parts without regard to age, sex or ethnicity (because there are those among you who have disgraced themselves previously by displaying an overfondness for woman in male military uniform I shall not mention that they all wore men's business suits), which worked well enough for the scientists, patients, participants in experiments and religious nutcases featured throughout, but less so for the rats, monkeys and sea slugs. So, a mixed bag, but it did draw my attention to Bruce Alexander's (admittedly disputed) theories on the links between addiction and societal fragmentation and inequality, which together with the work of Festinger are probably the most relevant to my life and how I live it of all the issues discussed in the play.

In other theatrical news I note that Northern Broadsides are to stage 'When We Are Married' in the autumn. J.B. Priestley is of course one of this blog's big heroes and I love this play because above all else it is very funny. Bazza has form in playing and directing the self important bourgeois so I am looking forward to this immensely. Lah-di-dah!

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Why do I find it hard to write the next line?

"Power may be at the end of a gun, but sometimes it's also at the end of the shadow or the image of a gun." - Jean Genet

And so to the theatre. The big scorchio in Yorkshire is inevitably over and so indoor stuff is once more back on the agenda. Upon walking into the foyer I was confronted by a huge host of women of a certain age, glammed up to the eyeballs in spangly, tight-fitting clothes, drinking prosecco and obviously on a night out without their husbands. Clearly this scenario is neither unknown nor unwelcome to Epictetus; indeed groups of such ladies often congregate wherever he is to be found. ["Could it be," interrupts a Rhetorical Pedant "that it is in fact you who hang around them, uninvited and unwanted, like a bad smell?"] However, when one is destined for an evening of French absurdism in the form of Jean Genet's 'Les Bonnes', one's expectations of the audience are rather different.

A chap called Kemp who used to be in Eastenders

It turned out that they were there to see Martin Kemp in the main house, a man with whom I am not very familiar, except to note that he is no relation to either Will Kempe, recently featured in this very blog, or to Ross Kemp. The relevance of the latter is that the last time that I had such an experience at the theatre was when I saw Kemp, R. give his Petruchio. I can well remember the looks of tattooed bafflement as the blank verse rolled out across the stalls. For the record, he wasn't bad at all.

A chap called Kemp who used to be in Eastenders

Anyway, back in the studio theatre, two maids, sisters, were planning to murder their mistress, were acting out their fantasies or, just possibly, had already done it. I have to hedge my bets because it is not entirely clear what the hell is or is not going on. The company's fine physical theatre and excellent acting carried us along, but we were left to make up our own mind what Genet is saying. For myself, I remain as convinced as I was before that killing those who have power is probably the only way the rest of us are ever going to get our hands on it. Another audience member to whom I spoke astutely referenced Psycho (the play predates the film) and the company themselves cryptically refer to the paradox of being trapped by freedom. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Till the bluebells forget to bloom

There is excellent weather at the moment in Yorkshire, so everyone is outdoors seeing how red they can turn before the rain returns on Tuesday.

Saturday, 7 May 2016


Adventitious apricity has precluded blogging for a couple of days, although life has been full in many other ways. There hasn't been much painting and the only progress on the Great War project has been that the re-released British Heavy Weapons set is apparently on its way to me. It's accompanied by the also re-released Gallic Command, which due to some oversight doesn't seem to contain any chariots. It does however include druids, which has surely got to be a good thing despite me having no current use for them. Perhaps the Romans in Britain rip-off of Pony Wars could use a human sacrifice or two.

There has been some real life gaming, with the first night of Lobositz proving to be good fun and reasonably balanced. I like the varied terrain, with the vineyards on the lower slopes of the extinct volcano making for an interesting challenge for both sides. Like all of James' scenarios destined for conventions this one involves a mandatory attack that no commander in their right mind would make, with Frederick the Great here joining Rommel in the ranks of the guilty.

I have been to the Wharfedale Wool Fair, which was like a more fragrant version of a wargames convention, but with even more ridiculous prices being asked. According to the big, bouncy woman the Leeds Wool Fair features real alpacas, which sound a whole lot more fun.

Walking this week took me to the Pennines by way of a change. I took a picture showing the view from the foot of Lund's Tower on Earl Crag back across Lothersdale, with Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-ghent in the far distance, but it wasn't very good so here's one of a random bit of moor instead.

You can just see Wainman's Pinnacle, the other of the Salt and Pepper Pots, towards the right of the picture.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

We are responsible for each other

And so to the theatre. I have been to see J.B. Priestley's brilliantly structured play about the interconnectedness of all members of society, 'An Inspector Calls', at the Alhambra in Bradford, surely the place to see it; we passed the large statue of the great man on the way to and from the theatre. Judging from the composition of the audience the play must be one of this year's GCSE set pieces. It was memories of it in the fifth form (or whatever they call it these days) that lured the elder Miss Epictetus into breaking her Shakespeare only rule; nothing could tempt the younger Miss Epictetus into breaking her 'I'm too cool to be seen with my dad' rule.

I suspect there is also a timely political imperative for this revival of this National Theatre production which was first put on in 1992. When I originally saw it many years ago it seemed an obvious riposte to the evils of Thatcherism; the fact that it was a play from the 1940s serving to highlight the backward looking nature of her pernicious philosophy. Fast forward to today and we find her disciples, born into a ruling class which the old bat herself could only envy from a distance, determined to take the UK even further back into the past; making the play's setting, 1912, even more relevant. Indeed, as others such as the legendary Keith Flett have pointed out, Jeremy Hunt's creation of the dispute with junior doctors appears to signal a wish to return to the Master and Servant act of 1823. Priestley's message is as valid today as it always has been.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Measurable progress in a reasonable time

 "Genius begins great works, labour alone finishes them." - Joseph Joubert
My bank holiday didn't work out as I had hoped, but that - and the terrible weather - freed up a bit of painting time. I have never been one of those who are so far on top of what they have painted that they can report the monthly aggregates in detail (1). I equally admire those who paint to such a fixed schedule that they can announce to the world that they have finished, even those such as James whose self-congratulatory blog posting about completion of a project is immediately followed by another containing details of what else they are planning to buy for that self same project. I myself prefer the approach favoured by the British general staff over the years: I prepare to refight the last war. Having packed away the Romans and Celts, and bearing in mind that they are unlikely to see the light of day for quite some time, I have nevertheless interrupted the WWI production line to do some more Roman dismounted leaders, some casualty markers and another unit of legionaries. However, just to prove that there has been a little bit of progress and also as a terrain try out, here are some German infantry moving across broken ground:

Notice how the homemade hex has been cunningly painted to blend invisibly with the Kallistra stuff. I've now done perhaps two thirds of the requirements for the first scenario in the Lardies' book. I've also made a 7.6cm minenwerfer, which sadly isn't needed, but haven't done the machine gun that is. As I say, I've always admired those who can paint to a plan. The Maxim will feature after the Roman interlude along with a few more German riflemen, a section of British rifle grenadiers and some gaming aids.

There have also been a couple of comments regarding the WWI strongpoint featured here recently, with 'Caveadsum' suggesting it all looked a bit phallic. Thankfully Crumb has a purer mind and merely observed that the type of thing shown in the picture was much more to her taste than crap chariots; no doubt she was referring to the paint job.

(1) For the record, the reason I can list the boardgames that I play every month is that boardgamegeek does all the work for me. For the record I've played a couple of absolute stinkers already this month.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Told by an idiot

And so to the theatre. I have been to see Macbeth, one of the many Shakespeare productions popping up all over the place to commemorate the fact that he's dead. There were one or two nice directorial touches, the main parts were well acted and overall I enjoyed it. The witches stayed on stage pretty much all the way through, a device which I've seen before, but one which worked well here. They were also in the auditorium prior to curtain up, which didn't work as well. I felt particularly sorry for the ushers who were constantly turfing them out of seats so that the punters could sit down. I hope this isn't a developing trend; let's not have them them pulling pre-performance pints in the bar as part of a future director's vision. However, I did like the accentuated eroticism of the Macbeths' relationship.

Shakespeare wrote for the actors he had in the company and there is some logic in the part of the porter being played by the same actor as played Bottom in the recent Dream. Only some because while Kempe was almost certainly the original Bottom, he had been fired (possibly for repeatedly going off script) and had danced his way to Norwich by the time Macbeth was written. Shakespeare was on top form when writing the part of Bottom the Weaver, with inspiration for his target - actors' egos - presumably all around him. The porter in Macbeth is thin stuff however, and the same comic style that proved a success the other week simply came across as one-dimensional here. It was, oddly enough for a play set in Scotland, as if being from Northern England is supposed to be funny in itself; which, take my word for it, it isn't.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Chestnuts in blossom

 "If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please." - Epictetus

I haven't quoted my namesake in a while, and having done so now I'm not sure that what he said was literally true. However, there wasn't as much boardgaming as usual in April because I must confess to having got a little jaded with it, so he wasn't all wrong either. There was still a little bit of boardgaming and here it is:

6 nimmt!: Some people find it a bit random, but I don't mind that aspect so much.

Between Two Cities: Completely pointless game which takes far longer to score than it does to play.

Broom Service: Well it won an award so it must have something, but I'm stuffed if I could see what. It involves pre-programming like the previous award winner Colt Express, but where in that case it could be funny when your plans went awry, here it was just annoying.

Caylus: A complicated worker placement game that has been superseded by more recent, dare one say better, designs.

Code777: Do not play this very late at night when your brain isn't working.

Condottiere: As usual this proved very popular with those who hadn't played it before.

Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Rumble at Castle Tentakill: What a terrible name, but it's actually quite an acceptable game. The theme is neither here nor there; it's an interesting combination of linked action and push your luck.

Ice Flow: As you know I like this game, but like it even better when I win, which I did in an astonishing comeback from nowhere. I certainly wasn't jaded with this one.

Jungle Speed: Snap. As in, this game is basically Snap.

K2: Another one that is always welcome. I think what this and Ice Flow have in common (apart from snow) is that the mechanics are unlike the standard worker placement/area control type Euro. They do have resource management, but it's deployed in an unusual manner.

Kingsburg: I thought this might have something to do with the Konigsberg Bridge Problem, but it doesn't. Shame. It's a dice game that is ultimately too random and too long.

Quadropolis: Sort of like Between Two Cities, only good.

Two Rooms and a Boom: Like all hidden role games one has to care; I don't. This one is a party game for children who are now old enough to go in pubs on their own.