Thursday, 29 September 2016


Benvolio: What sadness lengthens Romeo's hours?
Romeo: Not having that, which, having, makes them short.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

За Родину, честь и свободу!

My illness - from which I have largely recovered, but the after effects of which linger on; I currently have costochondritis - has made this a thin month for boardgaming. However I see no reason not to bore you with a list of games played anyway.

Boom: Runaway: An amusing filler card game about bombs trying to escape from the arsenal. This has possibly the largest ratio of difficulty of explanation and scoring to playing time of any game that I know.

Codenames: Pictures: Pleasant enough, but for me not as good as the original word version.

Dead Last: Pointless and random tontine based game, whose only virtue is that it can incorporate an awful lot of players.

Eminent Domain: A simple enough drafting and deck building game. Its weakness is that the military and research strategies aren't worth pursuing. Stick to colonising and trading and you'll win more often than not.

Five Tribes: I really like the mancala mechanism in this, but am less keen on some of the others, especially the purchase of djinns. Some of the iconography is pretty impenetrable and, of course, there are not five tribes at all. Good game though.

The Grizzled: At Your Orders!: I've always enjoyed The Grizzled and this expansion radically changes and improves the game. So it's a thumbs up from me. I've still never managed to get my character to survive the Great War though.

Oceanos: Inoffensive drafting game loosely themed around Jacques Cousteau type exploration. There is a push your luck element, but like many return on investment type games many possible strategies aren't worth a candle. There's also too large a random element somewhat similar to the flaw in Thebes.

Quartermaster General: Air Marshal: I love this game, but unbelievably it's the first time that I've played it this calendar year. I was the Soviet Union and, rather historically, resisted the blitzkrieg and then swept back and captured Germany. The allies won on the twentieth turn.

Shakespeare: A eurogame with a pasted on Shakespeare theme, but entertaining for all that. 

Skull: Never fails.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Time misspent in youth...

"The wine of youth does not always clear with advancing years; sometimes it grows turbid." 
- Carl Jung

“Some old men, continually praise the time of their youth. In fact, you would almost think that there were no fools in their days, but unluckily they themselves are left as an example.” 
- Alexander Pope

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Raw With Love

I will remember the kisses
our lips raw with love
and how you gave me
everything you had
and how I
offered you what was left of
and I will remember your small room
the feel of you
the light in the window
your records
your books
our morning coffee
our noons our nights
our bodies spilled together
the tiny flowing currents
immediate and forever
your leg my leg
your arm my arm
your smile and the warmth
of you
who made me laugh

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Isaiah Chapter 38 Verses 10-16

Firstly, many thanks to those who have wished me well. I am slowly recovering and very much hope to be at the Derby Worlds show next weekend. We apparently have the same table as last year, just inside the door; handy for the full English, but less so for the bogs. Feel free to stop by and say hello, preferably to James or Peter.

At any event I hope to be able to resume my métier as boulevadier and flâneur without too much further delay. It's been a drag.

“Illness reduces man to his basic state: a cloaca in which the chemical processes continue. The meaningless hegemony of the involuntary.” - Paul Bowles

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Medical update

I've had a bit of a relapse and have been back in A&E, although hopefully I'm back on the mend again. I'm certain that the nature of the problem has now been identified, which at least makes it easier to treat. In the meantime I am enjoying some bed rest.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

And everywhere there was song and celebration

It is the Otley Folk Festival this weekend. I became aware that it had started when, having retired not particularly early, I was awoken by someone singing 'Dirty Old Town' very loudly outside my house. I didn't mind that so much, but was somewhat less pleased when upon stepping out of my front door this morning I walked straight into three morris dancers. I was accompanied by the big bouncy woman who, to my astonishment, professed a liking for men prancing around with bells on their trousers and pigs bladders on sticks. Still as Jean-Paul Sartre said "We do not judge the people we love".

On the subject of quotations, it was Winston Churchill who first said "Never let a good crisis go to waste". I'm now feeling slightly better and so I have suspended my no nursing rule; the big bouncy woman was with me because she had been on first shift today.  Always careful of her reputation she is keen that I should point out to readers that the level of any perking up that may have taken place was specially tailored to my invalid status.

After lunch, when I'd also been visited by la seconda infermiera, I felt well enough to step outside to give the folk festival's street entertainment the once over. It was all very pleasant: the sun shone, the streets were busy, there was food and drink (not for Epictetus, who hasn't eaten anything but porridge for some days now), and the Ukulele Orchestra of Otley were just packing up as I arrived. In my brief visit I saw passable covers of songs from artists such as John Martyn and Joni Mitchell plus a Chuck Berry song that I'd never heard before. It wasn't one of his best, but any Chuck Berry song has got to be good right? Except for 'My Dingaling' obviously.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

All I need is my baby

Well, I'm still around. I've now eaten and slept for the first time in a few days, although not much of either. Together with the painkillers and the overuse of a bronchodilator this has resulted in a certain detachment from the real world. What better way to write a blog posting?

Epictetus has not been without offers of nursing care, but this obviously poses a bit of a scheduling nightmare; I am not in the mental state necessary to guarantee avoiding unfortunate meetings on the doorstep and thus I've declined most such suggestions so far. I did have a brief visit from the younger Miss Epictetus (who, by the way, is building up to running her first marathon on Sunday) and have otherwise managed by myself. Obviously not eating means no need to shop, so that's one problem solved. I could probably do with hanging out the washing that's been in the machine since Tuesday though.

For those who know Leeds, I was in Jimmys. I won't bore you with the details except to say that the CT scan was extremely peculiar. Not unpleasant - as for example MRI scans are - but most odd. Anyway, I've posted several versions of St James Infirmary Blues in the past so here's something else:

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Honey it's real

Readers may possibly have noticed - Peter definitely has - that I took a lighthearted, indeed jocular, view of losing my voice. I rather misjudged the situation. Not only did I subsequently get rushed to hospital in a blue-light ambulance, but it happened twice; all within the space of six hours. Finding myself lying on a bed in A&E with an oxygen mask over my face and an armful of tubes was another clue that I may have been a touch blasé. On the plus side, on my discharge I managed to blag a sizable quantity of codeine from the hospital pharmacy.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016


Still no vocal action for Epictetus, so any noise needs to come from elsewhere:

Love is a colloid hydrogel:

Or maybe it's a shear thinning non-Newtonian fluid:

Monday, 12 September 2016

Lamentations Chapter 3 Verse 28

“All I have is a voice.” - W.H. Auden

Sadly, what was true for Wystan is not so for Epictetus, who has lost his voice. Still, as Publilius Syrus said in his sententiae, "I often regret that I have spoken; never that I have been silent".

Sunday, 11 September 2016

The good times outweigh the bad

My heart has made its mind up
And I'm afraid it's you.
Whatever you've got lined up,
My heart has made its mind up
And if you can't be signed up
This year, next year will do.
My heart has made its mind up
And I'm afraid it's you.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

In a short time, this will be... a long time ago

The cinema hasn't featured in my life much recently, but suddenly I've been twice in fourteen hours. Firstly I saw 'Slow West', a western from last year that will appeal to anyone who liked Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight'. It's leisurely and amusing, interspersed with bloody violence. Look out for some literal visual interpretation of proverbs; I spotted 'salt in the wounds' and 'giving an arm and a leg'. Then, by way of a change, I went to see Woody Allen's latest 'Café Society'. It's set partly among 1930's New York organised crime gangs and so there is violence here as well. In what I thought was the one thing wrong with what is otherwise a fine, if typical, Allen film, the violence is made a source of amusement and somehow our hero is allowed to drift through untainted by it. There's nothing revolutionary about this film - the other setting is golden age Hollywood as already seen this year in 'Hail Ceasar' and the main theme of the film isn't that dissimilar to that in Ayckbourn's 'Relatively Speaking' which I saw at the theatre the other week - but it's highly enjoyable. The elder Miss Epictetus with whom I saw it - she leaves for pastures new on Wednesday - assures me that Kristen Stewart is a lot better here than in the Twilight films, and Jesse Eisenberg gives a pitch perfect impersonation of Woody Allen.

And staying on the gangster theme, here's an in memoriam tribute to the great Prince Buster

Monday, 5 September 2016

The little country in which you do not live

 "The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting." - Sun Tzu

I thought I'd put together a few thoughts about the campaign that we recently didn't really finish. Not in a move by move, chess analysis type way, but overall impressions.  In fact to get the detailed stuff right out of the way first: I didn't win the campaign simply because I lost the Battle of Sobotka.

The first general point is the obvious one that there is a dichotomy between one aim of a campaign being to create tabletop battles and another aim being to win the thing. The latter rather militates against the former because no one wants to fight unless they think they'll be successful; and lopsided battles don't provide much of an evening's entertainment.

I think in our particular case this was exacerbated by the version of Piquet being used (James' patent mid 18th century version) rather favouring the Prussians. I'm not saying this is wrong and it's by no means unique. For example Beneath the Lily Banners for the Great Northern War makes the Swedes fairly unbeatable in my experience. I'd be interested in whether the tabletop ruleset for which the campaign was designed were as one sided. On the other hand if the Austrians take the obvious route and don't fight it's very difficult for the Prussians to win, because the Austrians have all the victory points to start with and because of where and when their reinforcements arrive.

The campaign rules also reward splitting up into small - ridiculously small - forces and using them to delay strategic moves in what didn't seem to be terribly realistic ways. I wasn't sure whether the alternate move sequence favoured the Prussians, who moved first, or the Austrians, who moved second. The out of supply rules caused a certain amount of debate as did various other bits such as retreating after battle. James has - with input from Peter and I - rewritten everything. Hopefully this new version addresses all the previous issues and doesn't introduce any new ambiguities.

 "Laws should be constructed so as to leave as little as possible to the decision of those who judge" - Aristotle

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Une piece bien faite

And so to the theatre. I have been to see Alan Ayckbourn's 'Relatively Speaking'. Whilst there is an overlap with the themes of 'Deep Blue Sea' and both are 'well-made' plays - Rattigan's because that's what he did and Ayckbourn's because Stephen Joseph told him to write one - this piece isn't trying to make any particular point; the author fully abides by the limits that farce places on character depth and development. He's just trying to make people laugh and, as usual with this playwright, he succeeds. It's a very funny play, despite essentially being one joke stretched over two hours. And as it happened the largest laugh came in response to the suggestion that a husband's shame at finding out that his wife is having an affair would apparently be all the greater if it was discovered that the man in question was very much older than her, albeit coupled with admiration for the fact that the lover was still up to it at his age.

The stars were Robert Powell and Liza Goddard. I don't wish to diminish Goddard's career, but surely the most interesting thing about her is that she has been married to both Doctor Who and Alvin Stardust; she should be a pub quiz question. Powell on the other hand will always be, at least for someone of my vintage, the Son of God in Zeffirelli's 'Jesus of Nazereth'.

Possibly the least followed of all Christ's teachings, although there are many contenders

Powell had no problems delivering Ayckbourn's lines though; after all he had long ago demonstrated his comedic chops in 'The Detectives' with Jasper Carrot. If you've never seen it then you're in for a treat; it can be found on YouTube.

Possibly the funniest of the episodes of 'The Detectives'; although there are many contenders

I can't remember whether I mentioned it, but the Carmen I saw in Verona was also directed by Zeffirelli. He is, and like Alan Bennett he is still thankfully with us, a man of huge influence and range of achievements. My own personal favourite is that he was reputedly the inspiration for Uncle Monty in 'Withnail and I' as played by the late, great Richard Griffiths: "There is a certain je ne sais quoi - oh, so very special - about a firm, young carrot...Excuse me..."

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Dinosaurs, dodos, miners

And so to the theatre. I have been to see Brassed Off, a stage adaptation of Mark Herman's 1996 film. Some people - Crumb to be precise - feel that the film stereotypes northerners. I'm not from the north myself - although Herman is - but I am working class - absolutely no idea on Herman's class background - and I think that it's actually working class people who are stereotyped: solidarity, hearts of gold, like a pint etc etc.  The Rough Guide to Film  is quoted in Wikipedia as describing Herman's style as "partly gritty, party feel-good socialist realist", which seems fair enough. However despite the clichés and the plot full of holes I found the the film entertaining enough, and it contains a very fine performance from Pete Postlethwaite as the band leader; even Stephen Tomkinson isn't too bad as his son. I saw the latter play Charley's Aunt on stage once; I've no idea what happened to Ewan McGregor who is also in it.

The theatrical version sticks closely to the film script. The snooker and Mr Chuckles at the children's party scenes happen off stage, but in the move away from realism the chance is taken to have a permanent stage presence of a picket from 'Women Against Pit Closures', an effective continual reminder of the context against which the comedy is being played out. The music, provided by the City of Bradford Brass band is also beautifully and smoothly integrated and the performances - with the possible exception of the baby, which cried so much that it had to be taken off stage - are very good. All of which results in a production which, despite the clichés and the plot full of holes, is entertaining enough.

But as well as entertaining, it also asks the audience a question that remains as valid today as it was at the time of the film and the events that it portrayed: which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on?

Friday, 2 September 2016

Remorse, the fatal egg by pleasure laid

And so to the theatre. I have been to see Terence Rattigan's 'Deep Blue Sea' in another of the National Theatre's outside broadcasts. Now I am not particularly familiar with Rattigan's oeuvre. I'm hoping to see 'French Without Tears' shortly and know that to be a comedy and so I set off in cheerful mood. My companion for the evening took what I thought was an uncalled for delight as she told me that in fact we were in for a rather more downbeat time.

People who use internet dating sites quickly adopt a heuristic approach to choosing a potential partner. Women are apparently pretty quick to reject those men pictured with very large fish, doubly so if they - the men - are shirtless. Men, or so I am told, are prone to avoid women whose photos include horses, comedy spectacles, inflatable sumo wrestling outfits...well you get the idea. However, the women to be avoided at all costs by any chap wishing for a quiet life are surely those who describe themselves as a 'hopeless romantic'.

The relevance of this is that Freddy Page (ably played by Tom Burke, recently seen as Dolokhov in the very same BBC production of War and Peace mentioned here only yesterday) would have done well to heed that advice. The central hook on which the play hangs is that he can no more give Hester Collyer (Helen McCrory, last seen on these pages appearing in Medea) what she longs for than could the husband whom she left to be with him. Freddy, I think it's fair to say, has no hidden depths. During the war, when he served with distinction in the RAF and as a test pilot, this presumably helped him to cope. When Hester indicated her availability it would have been his focus on the immediate moment rather than thinking through the implications (socially devastating at that time) that made him respond as he did. There is a moral here for women looking for a bit of extramarital excitement; but what would I know about that?

The play has dated. The central role still has validity which is helpful because, as the director has said, there aren't many strong female roles around. That in itself is ironic because the genesis of the play is in the end of one of Rattigan's gay relationships, which was transmuted to a heterosexual one because it could not otherwise have been staged. And that's one of the problems: in the 21st century not only does the whole divorce/unmarried cohabiting stigma not resonate, but nor would the real repressed passion behind it all. In addition all the other characters are no longer recognisable in society. The dashing war hero who has lost his raison d'être means nothing to my children's generation, although presumably heartfelt at the time (Ratiigan himself saw active service in Bomber Command); Miller, the Page's neighbour, has clearly been interned as an enemy alien at some point, but the reference to this goes over the head of the audience in the National Theatre auditorium who laugh instead at what they believe to be a derogatory reference to the denizens of the Isle of Man; Sir William Collyer and his like are still running the country, but are considerably more socially liberal these days and are unlikely to make turgid speeches about wifely duty, or indeed take their summer holidays at Sunningdale; and as for the (token) white working class character being a repository of tolerance - do me a favour.

After the first act the women in the audience were all but shouting "He's not worth it" - spoiler alert; he's not - while I was comparing it to 'Anna Karenina' and 'A Doll's House'. To be honest it's more like those blended with 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' or Martin Amis' short novel 'Time's Arrow'. So, well acted and staged, but not much more.

A fried egg sandwich features as the action comes to an end. I have a vaguely amusing, and true, story about one of those and an LSD trip, but sadly I have neither the space nor time to include it here.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes

"& above all of Cintra, the most blessed spot in the habitable globe" - Robert Southey

It has been pointed out to me that going to Sintra via Estoril is a strange route to take unless one's starting position is somewhere out in the Atlantic Ocean. That is obviously true and I stand corrected. I suspect that what I was really doing while sneering through the train window at Estoril's lack of scale was taking a day trip from Lisbon to Cascais. I'd rather go to Sintra anyway, it's a much nicer place. Byron must have liked it - although it was one of the many words that he couldn't spell properly - and he started writing 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage' while he was there.

Everything in Sintra is divine. There is no corner that is not a poem.” -Eça de Queirós

That, by the way, is a quote from Os Maias, my favourite of his novels, and one that cries out for a BBC Andre Davies adaptation. Eça de Queirós should rank alongside Dickens and Tolstoy and this book's main theme, explicitly stated, is one that the latter only alludes to in War and Peace; although Davies of course wasn't as reticent.