Sunday, 31 July 2016

Saturday, 30 July 2016


"Our lives are full of empty space" - Umberto Eco

The big bouncy woman is in vacanza and in her absence I am somewhat bereft. Any others - and I am neither confirming nor denying that there are others - are just not, in the words of T.S. Eliot, as "bavard, baveux, à la croupe arrondie".

But enough of that, and back to politics. I wanted to pass on a link to a blog post regarding the Labour Party leadership that I found interesting. There is some thoughtful debate going on regarding the issue, it's just that it doesn't get reported in the newspapers or on television.

Wargaming news is a tad slow; we appear to have got the rules wrong yet again in the Bohemian Blitzkrieg campaign so there is a short delay. But I have picked up a paintbrush for the first time a yonk. Admittedly it wasn't to paint any figures, but it was a start. The younger Miss Epictetus got it into her head to go to a pottery painting café and, in the absence of any interest whatsoever elsewhere, was forced to call on the aged parent. It was very relaxing, therapeutic almost, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself applying a Caribbean beach scene to a mug from which, when it's been fired and I get it back, I fully intend to drink coffee laced with rum. That should make the Great War project go with a swing.

It is, as one can't help but know, fifty years to the day since England won the world cup. I haven't watched, listened to or read any of the stuff being churned out to commemorate it, but in my head I have been transported back to watching a black and white tv in the living room of a house in Bethnal Green which was within the year knocked down as part of the slum clearance programme. The memories naturally relate mostly to those with whom I watched it and who are no longer with us; basically everyone except my younger sister. My grandfather - who now I think about it was almost certainly sitting there with a cup of tea laced with a dash of whisky; let no-one tell you nature isn't as strong as nurture - was also gone within the year. I still have a number of volumes of a history of the Great War that were the only books I ever saw in his house. 

I have always prided myself on never having been in the slightest bit patriotic. Someone - Julian Barnes perhaps - wrote that real patriotism was pointing out to one's country when it got things wrong. But reflecting on 1966 makes me wonder. I suspect that as a ten year old boy growing up in post-war Britain I was as patriotic as everyone else. Perhaps it was that day that did it. We'd won and that was it. Anything further would be mere repetition and so it didn't hold any further interest for me.

"If you live long enough, you'll see that every victory turns into a defeat" - Simone de Beauvoir

Friday, 29 July 2016

Politics I'm afraid

Firstly, a comment on our government:

"Stupidity has a knack of getting its way" - Albert Camus

And secondly, a comment on our opposition:

I shall be voting for Jeremy Corbyn again. I acknowledge that he is the wrong man for the job, but Owen Smith - who I freely confess that I had never heard of until a couple of weeks ago - has done one thing that means I can't vote for him. He has announced the policies he would introduce were he elected. I do not want a leader who decides on policy; I want a leader who will champion and implement the policies decided on by the Labour Party. So do the majority of party members, and that, above all else, is why Corbyn will be re-elected.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Dear, oh dear

So the Battle of Sobotka ended as badly as expected. There was some minor Austrian success in that the Prussian right flank was entirely destroyed, but that didn't come close to making up for the fact that so was the Austrian centre. James claims to have pretty much finished a write up of the while battle and he certainly took lots of photographs so I will simply refer you to his blog.

I made a number of tactical mistakes and Peter undoubtedly got the best of the luck with dominoes, dice and cards. However, I don't propose to dwell on those; instead some quick opinions on the rules as they stand.
  • Sadly the new withdrawal rules didn't really work. On the plus side, I liked the free move when passing the test to withdraw and the extra move on Officer Check cards thereafter; it gives a real prospect of actually getting away. On the down side, it's still very dull to play out that part of the battle. 
  • Not that long ago James changed the rules so that infantry can only fire straight ahead. Notwithstanding the historical rights and wrongs of this - about which I know nothing - in terms of playability the result is frankly a real dog's breakfast, with inconsistencies popping up all over the place. It turns the game into the sort of 'wangle the angle' affair often previously derided in the legendary wargames room and, given the Prussian infantry's huge advantage in manoeuverability, leaves things rather unbalanced.
  • I used to find it a source of great amusement that the definition of a flank was heatedly debated each and every week; now it's just embarrassing. To me the beaten zone and flank rules need to be defined together along the lines of:
    • The determining factor for whether a unit gains flank advantage is the position of the centre of that unit's front relative to the front edge of the target unit.
    • If a unit is engaged in ranged fire, then if its centre is behind the target unit's front and the target otherwise meets the normal criteria for being fired at then it counts as flank fire.
    • If a unit moves into contact with another, then if the centre of that unit's front started movement behind the contacted unit's front edge and if no part of the contacting unit is in the arc of fire at the point of contact then the contacted unit is flanked.
    • For the avoidance of doubt no unit can obtain a flank advantage over a unit which could (assuming it were loaded) opportunity fire at it.
In other wargaming news, I have spent some money, which may possibly signal a return to activity. I bought a batch of buildings from a charity shop, which I think means that I now have more than enough. These are hollow cast rather than the solid and more detailed Lilliput Lane stuff, but they will suffice. I also picked up another Hexon trench piece on ebay.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Take care of your homework

I have been to see bluesman Earl Thomas with his full US band play a hot and steamy set in a working men's club in Bradford. Musically it was excellent - he can certainly sing - and the effect was obviously heightened for those for whom sexy, black men shaking their thing is a turn on; which it certainly was for a large number of raucous women of a certain age in the audience. He was taking his life in his hands when he came down to the merchandising stall afterwards. I'm not sure the suave supper clubs of California fully prepare one for Yorkshire women after they've had a few drinks on a Friday night.

Among the songs that he played was Johnny Taylor's classic, "Take Care of Your Homework", containing the line "the downfall of too many men is the upkeep of too many women". Ain't that the truth brother!

Saturday, 23 July 2016


How shall I hold my soul so it does not
touch on yours. How shall I lift it
over you to other things?
Ah, willingly I’d store it away
with some lost thing in the dark,
in some strange still place, that
does not tremble when your depths tremble.
But all that touches us, you and me,
takes us, together, like the stroke of a bow,
that draws one chord out of the two strings.
On what instrument are we strung?
And what artist has us in their hand?
O sweet song.

     - Rainer Maria Rilke

Thursday, 21 July 2016

And summer's lease...

... hath all too short a date. But while it lasted, a period of what can best be described as 'scorchio plus' sapped the energy out of all of us. I personally sought refuge in the Junction Inn, which I have only just realised has air conditioning; presumably because it's the first time they've had to actually turn it on in all the years that I've lived round here. Anyway, while I was there I saw the always excellent Dr Bob & the Bluesmakers. Maria, their lead vocalist, just seems to get better and better, although it would appear that she was also unaware of how cold it was going to be in the pub and rather wished that she had worn more clothes.

This brief hot spell also saw week two of the Battle of Sobotka, and thankfully the temperature in the legendary wargames room wasn't too bad at all by the time we got there. I haven't yet had a chance to reflect in any detail how things developed - although the big, bouncy woman did thoroughly debrief me almost as soon as the game was over - so let's just say that it was once again bad for the Austrians, but not as bad as the week before. Hopefully James will get some photos up soon because the table does look good. Notwithstanding the fact that I was once again on the wrong end of the initiative split (although in fairness I also luckily won a couple of cavalry melees that I shouldn't have done) I can only reiterate that I just love the swings and uncertainties of Piquet.

Sort of related to having seen some blues - with more to come tomorrow - this, especially for Crumb, is Captain Beefheart doing a J.J. Cale song that many of us will best know from the Lynyrd Skynyrd version:

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Fracking implausible

And so to the theatre. I have been to see Square Peg's latest production, 'Roseacre'. This is claimed to be in the style of those Scandinavian noir television series that have been very popular over recent years, but as I've never seen any I can't confirm that. What I can say is that it was rather gripping and completely nonsensical; still one can't have everything. Performed in a studio theatre it contained lots of the physicality and character doubling up necessary to compensate for limited props and a small cast, and which I rather like. There was, for example, a very fine and funny method of representing a game of darts in a pub. The plot - something to do with fracking and police infiltration of protest groups - was however absolute tosh. Quite why a Detective Chief Inspector came to be in charge of the riot squad was never explained and the inference that one could change one's DNA along with one's identity was downright bizarre. As for someone's ability to go about their daily life without anyone noticing that their scalp had been sewn back on overnight by a Russian prostitute with the aid of vodka as an antiseptic, let's just say that I have my doubts. Anyway, said escort's description of her relationship with her clients as "I stand on their balls and they call me mother" made my companion for the evening laugh knowingly to herself and me wince. There's a whole world out there of which I am thankfully ignorant.

On a different subject, readers may have wondered why there had been no mention so far this summer of my magic hat; be reassured that I have retrieved it from the cupboard and it is on charge.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

That went well

“Misfortune nobly born is good fortune.” - Marcus Aurelius

I recently forecast that the Austrians luck was about to change in the Bohemian Blitzkrieg campaign. I also made the assertion that I was indifferent to both victory and defeat. The first has come true and the second is about to be tested, for it's fair to say that the opening evening of the Battle of Sobotka didn't go entirely to plan. It started very well - I had a cracking draw and my units didn't roll up too badly - but I didn't get much initiative and in particular couldn't rally anything. None of this was helped by some less than optimal starting positions, mainly caused by me trying to leave too many options open. Still, what goes around comes around.

 "Remember that all we have is 'on loan' from Fortune, which can reclaim it without our permission - indeed, without even advance notice." - Seneca

Wednesday, 13 July 2016


"Socialism involves a process of striving to advance the goals that define it." - Ralph Miliband

So, Epictetus old chap, what do you think about all this Jeremy Corbyn stuff then? Well, as it happens, I have been giving this some thought. Obviously I have no greater qualifications for having an opinion than having first joined the Labour party on the day after Thatcher became prime minister in 1979, but nevertheless I do have them. Opinions.

Firstly, I have long adhered to the view that the parliamentary Labour party should be representing the views of the wider Labour party and its members rather than dictating policy itself. Should MPs wish to belong to a party where decisions are taken at the top and adhered to with iron discipline all the way down to the foot soldiers (a term I use deliberately) then I suggest they join Sinn Fein.

On the other hand, Corbyn really isn't cutting the mustard. He is, or at least it seems to me, treating the job as some sort of inconsequential adjunct to his normal activities of supporting and publicising various worthy progressive causes. Despite the fact that I agree with most of what he says, that isn't what I want him to do. What is required is someone to organise and deploy an effective opposition to the apalling people currently making an appalling mess of running the country.

And then, and by no means least, what about the workers? The one generally accepted point about the situation in Britain today is that at an ever increasing pace the benefits of society are accruing to a small group of people and everyone else is feeling the pain. Our right wing government promises more of the same disguised behind a facade of disingenuous scaremongering, scapegoating, authoritarianism and indifference. What the country needs is a cogent left-of-centre alternative. All the PLP appear to offer the country is to not be the Tories, while at the same time asserting that the only way to get elected is to be very much like the Tories anyway. For all his faults - which are many - Corbyn at least offers such an alternative vision. In response the only thing that the PLP can say is that their not-Tory offering would be more likely to be accepted if put forward by not-Corbyn.

If, somewhere in the PLP, someone exists who can bring together under one banner the MPs (in their current guise of the political wing of the Economist magazine; socially liberal and economically conservative), the Labour party in the country (socially liberal and righteously socialist economically), and the traditional Labour voting white working class (socially conservative and subconsciously dirigiste economically if one is kind; bigotted and ignorant if one is realistic) then let he or she declare themselves. We all stand ready to be inspired and led on to the new Jerusalem. Sadly, I do not believe such a person exists.

So, there you have it; many opinions, but no solutions.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Summer (a love poem)

I wanted to be sure this was our island
so we could walk between the long stars by the sea
though your hips are slight and caught in the air
like a moth at the end of a river around my arms
I am unable to understand the sun your dizzy spells
when you form a hand around me on the sand

I offer you my terrible sanity
the eternal voice that keeps me from reaching you
though we are close to each other every autumn
I feel the desperation of a giant freezing in cement
when I touch the door you're pressed against
the color of your letter that reminds me of flamingos

isn't that what you mean?
the pleasure of hands and
lips wetter than the ocean
or the brilliant pain of
breathless teeth in a
turbulent dream on a roof
while I thought of nothing
else except you against
the sky as I unfolded you
like my very life a liquid
signal of enormous love we
invented like a comet that
splits the air between us!

the earth looks shiny wrapped in steam and ermine
tired of us perspiring at every chance on the floor
below I bring you an ash tray out of love for the
ice palace because it is the end of summer the end
of the sun because you are in season like a blue
rug you are my favorite violin when you sit and 
peel my eyes with your great surfaces seem intimate
when we merely touch the thread of life and kiss

              - Frank Lima

Monday, 11 July 2016

Coitus Interruptus

“Aucune règle n'existe, les exemples ne viennent qu'au secours des règles en peine d'exister.” 
- André Breton

I have mentioned the Seven Years War campaign that's been going on for a few weeks and if you have any sense you've been reading about it in more detail on James' blog. You may therefore have picked up that there have been some debates about the appropriate method of withdrawal. For my own benefit as much as anything else I wanted to list out my views; not so much about the topic, but about the context in which it is being discussed. So, in no particular order:
  • The rules are James' and he is the ultimate arbiter and editor. 
  • I personally don't know much about the War of the Austrian Succession or the Seven Years War; indeed I cannot recall ever having read a single book specifically on the subjects. Like a lot of wargamers I have a preference for Horse and Musket games in general, but that's as far as it goes. 
  • I have never played the period anywhere other than in the legendary wargames room nor with any other ruleset than Piquet, although I believe James is intending an outing for 'Honours of War' at some point.
  • I think I've referred before to my interpretation of the Two Fat Lardies' injunction to play the period and not the rules. In my view it means that people like me should play the rules and if that results in actions that the writers (i.e. those who know about the period) consider wrong then they should change the rules so that we either can't do it or get punished for so doing.
  • I play wargames - and indeed boardgames - to win, because they don't make a great deal of sense otherwise, but am neither upset if I don't win or that excited if I do. I've never embraced competitiveness for it's own sake - a philosophical approach that my ex-wife could not understand at all - and in any event when I win a battle it's usually because Peter has rolled a lot of ones on the dice; this is obviously a source of great amusement, but not really a cause for celebration.
  • Ever since I've known the various wargamers of Ilkley - which is quite a long time now - they have been prone to changing the rules. James takes it to the next level, with games often not finishing using the rules that they started with, but this has never bothered me particularly. The process is clearly teleological and reflects my observation above about getting the rules to drive period realism.
  • The morale chip structure within classic Piquet appears to be there mainly for the purpose of getting relatively small games to finish in a relatively short time frame. Playing larger games and taking longer about it does two things: it highlights illogicalities in the system because these have more chance of becoming apparent; and it introduces new ones as the system has now to do things that it was never intended to.
  • The Ilkley Lads (was there ever a bigger case of collective self-delusion than the use of the word 'lads' in this soubriquet?) have made certain incremental adjustments over time, such as a chip loss per unit rather than stand, no chip for a successful challenge, Major Morale card affects the other player, two Major Morale cards, and no doubt others. As far as I am aware there has been no zero-based review; perhaps it's time.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Hold My Hand And I'll Take You There

"When love comes so strong,
There is no right or wrong,
Your love is your life."

And so to the theatre. I decided to go large on the story of tragic love across the boundaries between feuding factions and so, only a day after watching Romeo and Juliet with the eldest Miss Epictetus, her younger sister and I went to see West Side Story. Interestingly this is set in exactly the same period, the 1950s, as that to which Branagh updated Shakespeare - I understand that the performance license for West Side Story doesn't allow any changes at all to the original - although the main conclusion from see the two juxtaposed is the unoriginal one that Italians are ineffably more stylish than Americans.

In the original one sees things mostly from the part of the Montagues, but Arthur Laurents' updating of the story fleshes out Bernardo's character way beyond that of Tybalt, to such an extent that the audience's sympathies switch much more to the heroine's family. And of course the Sharks are way cooler and have the better music. Indeed it was 'America' (the stage version which is rather different to the film version) that stood out as the highlight of this production: vibrant, colourful and beautifully sung. Maria and, especially, Anita were excellent; the acting of Tony, as the younger Miss Epictetus was quick to point out, seem to consist mainly of pointing an outstretched index finger at the other actors. He had a nice voice though.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Such sweet sorrow

And so to the theatre, and also to the cinema as I've been to another live transmission. The elder Miss Epictetus and I have been to see Kenneth Branagh's Romeo and Juliet. I was a latecomer to these, but,as I think I've mentioned before, I'm very impressed. Far from diminishing the theatrical experience the cinematic aspect is done so well that those watching remotely actually get a better deal. Branagh sets his production in 1950's Italy and augments this theme by relaying it in black and white. For those of us whose mental image of that period of Italian history is based on 'La Dolce Vita' this is absolutely on the button; I'm not entirely sure what the large number of.15 and 16 year old GCSE students in the audience made of it.

The production was excellent, with Lily James outstanding as Juliet.The 'fit bloke from Game of Thrones' looked good, got his lines right and didn't fall over as Romeo, and a mention should be made of Meera Syal as the nurse. However, the star of the show was Sir Derek Jacobi as Mercutio. Branagh, in a pre-show exposition, explained his decision to cast the 77 year old by means of a long anecdote involving Oscar Wilde via D.H. Lawrence, although it might just have been simpler to point out that the text doesn't refer to the character's age. Whatever the justification, Mercutio as flâneur works very well. Indeed I am off to buy a cane (although probably not a swordstick) at the earliest opportunity; I have found a personal style for my retirement years.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

The luck of the Irish

I posted recently that I thought that the Austrians' luck in the Bohemian Blitzkrieg campaign was about to run out. I haven't changed that opinion, but can report that it hasn't happened yet. Yesterday, in the Battle of Niemes, Maquire (Macquire? McGuire?), exiled son of County Kerry, lost, but not that badly. Given that he had spent much of the time so far not doing anything (apart from the uncharacteristically effective raid on Frederick's supply lines), this was somewhat unexpected.

A quick look at the campaign map will show that this was only ever meant to be a holding action while the much larger Battle of Sobotka takes place. The battlefield was probably as good as it could be for the Austrians and the pre-battle roll up gave the Austrians a defensive position including earthworks, but the Prussians had a much larger, mostly better army. When their commander rolled 'purple' (that's the colour of the bead used to mark his quality;there is a proper term for it, but I can't remember what it is), gaining them a Brilliant Leader card, and Maquire rolled up as poor (a red bead), gaining them a Command Indecision Card, things looked even worse. However, and somewhat paradoxically, it was when I drew appalling morale chips - the absolute bare minimum and then only after drawing for a second time - that there was an improvement in my prospects. In such circumstances I really had no choice except to get rid of my morale as quickly as possible and then withdraw; the rules requiring zero morale before this could take place.

The odd looking Austrian deployment was at least in line with Maquire's low rating, although post battle discussion did reveal that I had more flexibility in setting up my earthworks than I had assumed. My plan was to use my artillery to knock off stands from the advancing Prussians, morale challenging whenever possible, and also use morale chips to attempt to rally in all circumstances where I had lost stands myself. The asymmetrical Prussian deployment left my grenzers (the one element of Austrian advantage in troop quality) with an empty flank in front of them and so, opportunistically, I advanced them and decided to try to use these as well as the artillery to cause casualties. These units shot up the Prussian artillery (good) and then routed when faced with cavalry thereby using up morale chips (also good). I was able to withdraw without any of my other infantry or my cavalry having entered the battle at all. Both sides caused 1 SP of damage during the battle and although I had mentally budgeted for another 1 SP of post-battle pursuit damage I rolled well and that didn't happen either. All in all it could have been a lot worse.

Lessons learned:
  • The morale chip rules have always been a slight quirk in Piquet. I think our amendments  make them better, but it would be hard to claim total intellectual coherence.
  • I should have moved my badly positioned artillery sooner. The rules allow them to move reasonably quickly, this should be taken advantage of.
  • If the battle is scheduled to take eight moves, the attacker shouldn't be afraid to use them all.
  • I think Peter fell into the same trap that I did the previous week. The campaign objective of destroying stands means that if one gets the chance to knock off some stands from an enemy that will shortly withdraw then one should take it, even if under other circumstances one would use one's initiative elsewhere.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

I think sexual intercourse is in order, Gilbert.

And so to the theatre. Readers may recall the film 'A Private Function' from thirty odd years ago, featuring a pig-napping of the sort which often appear in P.G. Wodehouse's Blandings novels. The film has particular resonance with this blog because the screenplay was written by one of our heroes, the thankfully still very much alive Alan Bennett; because much of it was filmed in Ilkley, the epicentre of wargaming in lower Wharfedale; and because the most sympathetic character, played by another of our heroes, the sadly no longer with us Richard Griffiths, is an accountant. I have now been to see the stage musical version, 'Betty Blue Eyes'.

I'm not really, despite what the lady in the kitchen shop may think, much of a fan of musical theatre, but I have to say that I enjoyed it enormously. In translation from the big screen to the stage and from comedy to musical some things have been added and some lost. It's a while since I have seen the film, but I don't recall dancing girls (and I mean full-on Moulin Rouge style dancing girls) appearing in anyone's front room, nor indeed cameo appearances from Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip.  And, spoiler alert, the fate of the pig has been, how shall we say, made more suitable for family audiences. But it all hurtles along nicely, there are still references to Lady Macbeth for the the intellectually inclined and fart jokes for everyone else, and the cast gave it their all.

Star of the show is the animatronic pig - how could it be otherwise - which is better behaved than one assumes a real one would be. Indeed there are stories of Dame Maggie Smith being chased round a kitchen by one of those used in the film. The pretend pig followed the script perfectly until right at the end when, after taking its bow, it suddenly careered into the scenery and knocked one of its ears off. They should have stuck to that old showbiz rule: never work with children or radio-controlled animals.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016


There's still no painting action chez Epictetus. The new movement trays etc got finished and put away and then so did all the modelling stuff. Perhaps my interest will pick up again when the weather isn't so good. That's a little joke for the benefit of our British readers, although it does give me an excuse to include this clip as a little tribute:

Anyway, hobby stuff has basically been the Seven Years War campaign and a bit of boardgaming. In the former, I am concerned that the Austrians may already have peaked with their rather lucky victory in the Battle of Aussig being followed by all commanders moving when asked. It has to be all downhill from here. Boardgaming for the last two weeks has taken place against a background of constant and unprecedented discussion about politics. Our Monday night group is attended on and off by Americans from the nearby 'secret' military base and it is interesting, if disheartening, to hear their views on it all. I'm not sure which is worse, their lack of understanding of the world outside the US, or their lack of awareness of the way the rest of the world regards the US. And these are people who have not only travelled abroad, but spend all day every day listening to our phone calls. Frightening.

In other news a low level of cultural intake continues. I went to see Bob Fox, folk singer and original Songman in the National Theatre production of War Horse, an evening which also featured short sets from Yan Tan Tether and Jon Palmer, the latter of whom I also saw with his band in the Junction Inn, a pub referenced in his song 'Another Friday Night in a Northern Town'.

In the cinema I saw last season's version of the 'Merchant of Venice' from the Globe plus 'Love & Friendship', the not very widely released film based on Jane Austen's epistolary novella 'Lady Susan'. They were both very funny in parts, with Tom Bennett (now there's a proper Jane Austen name) stealing the second as the clueless Sir James Martin.

Monday, 4 July 2016

In which my eyes are opened by a cosmic encounter

It's boardgame round up time. Hooray!

Champions of Midgard:  A bit like Lords of Waterdeep, but with a more intrusive fantasy theme, which, perhaps inevitably, made no sense at all. I lucked into a win, but I'm not sure how.

Codenames:  The only problem with this otherwise excellent game remains the potential for a lack of shared frame of reference between the two parts of one's team. The young people of today appear to have no knowledge of the names of fielding positions in cricket. Extraordinary.

Cosmic Encounter: The group of people I played with on this occasion, newcomers to the Leeds gaming group, obviously played the game regularly and now I understand how it should be played properly. I'd always enjoyed it previously, but this was much better. Eye-opening.

Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space: I really want to like this more, but it's a great mechanic - albeit that it's just Battleships tweaked a bit - in search of a balanced game. In fact it's almost, but not quite, a hidden identity game worth playing.

Knit Wit: I did not like this at all. Creativity under pressure is really not my thing. For the record it has nothing whatever to do with knitting, a subject with which thanks to the big, bouncy woman I am increasingly familiar.

Marrakech: I love this game. Who would think a game about rug selling could give so many opportunities to stiff one's opponents?

The Networks: I'm not entirely sure about this game about running a TV network. There wasn't a great deal of player interaction and the silly names of the shows and stars were more fun than the gameplay.

No Thanks!: A fun push-your-luck filler, simple to grasp and difficult to win. Recommended.

One Night Revolution: A mixture of One Night Werewolf and Resistance results in rubbish squared.

Puerto Rico: Morally ambiguous worker placement game (who exactly are these workers that I'm recruiting to my plantation and why are they represented by brown pieces?), but a good game nevertheless. It's a close relative of San Juan which I also enjoyed and which is quicker.

The Pursuit of Happiness: A fun game about living a full life, but much of the amusement comes from playing the theme and not the rules. The way to win is surely to become an ascetic and eschew not only relationships, but also a job. Strangely enough hobbies are a quite sensible route to success.

Skull: There is nothing more to be said. A great game which makes you see people in a very different light.

Thebes: A game of competitive archeology, a theme which seems to have inspired quite a few games. This one is spoiled by one seemingly minor mechanic, the drawing of unearthed treasures from a bag. This brings so much luck into things that the only strategic advice I could give is to make sure that you draw good tiles.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

The road to Marston Moor

The whole country would have been as affected by the English Civil War as by the Great War; fighting was widespread and the death toll was proportionately higher than in either world war. Otley's part was somewhat minor. Parliamentarian troops marched through en route to Marston Moor and it is reliably documented that Cromwell held a conference with his commanders in an orchard in the nearby village of Menston. More apocryphally, these passing troops are supposed to have drunk the Black Bull - oldest of Otley's many pubs - dry. This may not be true, but it's firmly rooted in the local popular consciousness, mostly because there's a large plaque on the side of the pub facing the market square which makes the claim to everyone who walks by.

To mark the anniversary of the  battle - July 2nd - the English Civil War Society visited the town to commemorate all aspects of the events of 1644. I only witnessed their attempt at the drinking task through the window as I walked up to the Yew Tree to see the Max Band (excellent, with the highlight being a cracking run through 'Born To Be Wild'), but there they were, in period costume and giving it their best shot.

I did, however, go to see their drill demonstration and display of the sort of skirmish that may have taken place in the run up to the battle. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but for lovers of loud bangs and the smell of gunpowder it was a cracking afternoon out.

 We already know that this blog's readership contains those with a taste for women dressed in male military attire - shame on you - and there was much that would have held your interest; a significant proportion of the combat troops involved were women. Look closely at the photos and you'll see what I mean.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Over the Top

And so to the theatre. The centenary of the Great War and of the Somme in particular has been marked by two plays on the stages of Leeds. First up was 'Leeds Pals' which looked at the local volunteers who volunteered together in the first weeks and months of the war and served together in July 1916. This piece was put together specifically for the anniversary and was generally well received with reviews marking it out as a tear jerker. However, I must say that I felt it had a large number of flaws which prevented any real emotional engagement. Firstly they focussed in on two individuals (spoiler alert - one survives, one doesn't), thereby ignoring the real story which was the heavy levels of casualties concentrated on small communities because of the flawed concept of 'Pals Battalions'. Secondly they framed it with story of one Tommy's great grandson's service in Afghanistan which simply diluted the whole thing further. The power of the collective memory of the First World War comes about largely because anyone whose family lived in the UK one hundred years ago has a close connection with those events and probably knows about it and, at least in outline, the part which their relatives played. Afghanistan, and I have no intention of minimising the personal tragedies of those who suffered physically and/or psychologically there, does not have the same resonance. I don't know or know of anyone who served there; since seeing the play I have asked around and haven't found anyone with any personal connection at all to that conflict. Joining the army in the autumn of 1914 was a response to a mixture of existential threat, peer pressure, emotional blackmail and god knows what else. Joining the army in the twenty first century is a career choice. It didn't work dramatically to conflate the two.

Far better was 'Barnbow Canaries' at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, which told the story of an explosion at a munitions factory in Leeds which killed 35 people and was hushed up at the time. The canaries tag was a reference both to the TNT poisoning which slowly turned the women yellow, and to their expendability both during the war, and afterwards when the men returned and took back their jobs. It's probably impossible to write about the First World War without using at least some cliches; the skill of the playwright is best shown in which ones they select and the context in which they place them. Because this is a play about women we get the girl giving herself to the boyfriend leaving for the front, we get resigned spinsterhood given the shortage of men and we get stiff upper lips as the telegrams arrive, all of which succeed where, for example, the pompous posh boy officer from a mine-owning family in command of the 'Leeds Pals' fails. 'Barbow Canaries' is on for a while longer yet; see if it you can, but beware, this one will bring a tear to your eye.