Monday, 31 October 2016

A thing of beauty is a joy forever

So opens Keat's poem 'Endymion'. I mention this not just because it is his 221st birthday today, but also because - in the joined up manner beloved of your bloggist - Endymion is a character in the latest opera that I have been to see: Cavalli's 'La Calisto'. This further slice of baroque brings together two mythological episodes: the 'seduction' of Calisto by Jupiter and the liaison between Diana and Endymion.

English Touring Opera play it for laughs in the first two acts with, for example, yet another man playing a part written for a woman sharing scenes with a woman playing a part written for a woman playing a goat-boy, followed on stage by a man dressed as a woman miming to the voice of a mezzo atop an upstage ladder. The setting was Victorian steampunk meets Peter Jackson style elves which gelled surprisingly well with both the seventeenth century music and the humour. Endymion as Professor Branestawm (or possibly Doc Brown) was especially effective and Mercurio gave good quiff.

In the third act they focussed more on the drama. Faustini, the librettist was obviously giving the Venetian public what they wanted and expected rather than going for anything deep and meaningful; he plays rather fast and loose with Ovid, Aeschylus and whoever else his sources were. However, there is something poignant about the mutual love of the moon and an astronomer, the two being inevitably and permanently separated by the natural order of things. Jupiter and Juno however clearly deserve each other. And if I was the title character I'd think I'd have preferred to stay as a bear - which was very effectively, if briefly, realised - than be raised to the heavens as a star, but perhaps that's just me.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Frederick still not great

I have been to Fiasco!, the local Leeds show, and rather enjoyed it. One has to say that it hasn't been that brilliant for a couple of years, but I thought that things had definitely perked up. Whilst James' game was definitely the best, there were a  number worth looking at. Legendary Wargames had a nice looking ACW set up and there were a range of other smaller ones. I had a go at a neat little participation game that the Wakefield and District Society were running covering the Agincourt campaign. It worked well for me and not just because as Henry V I triumphantly defeated the French at the gates of Calais.

The refight of Chotusitz was somewhat less successful. The domino gods were not kind to the Prussians and nor was the morale card deal. With a bit more morale perhaps the superiority of Frederick's infantry may have come into play. Perhaps. What I would say is that more than in any other Piquet demo game with which I have helped, many people were displaying an interest in the rules and not just the set up.

I picked up my latest order from Kallistra and am now ready to have a crack at Through the Mud and the Blood. Further details - and hopefully some photos - will follow.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Tie a yellow ribbon

And so to the opera; to the early days of opera in fact. I have been to see Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria. Monteverdi wrote this for the new Venetian opera house in the same period as L'incoronazione di Poppea reviewed here a couple of years ago. I saw Ulysses in a much smaller, more intimate venue and, perhaps because I was a good deal closer to the action, I enjoyed it much more.

Penelope is of course the archetype of connubial fidelity, and as played by the voluptuous and dark-haired Carolyn Dobbin she looked the part of chaste and faithful wife; at least as your bloggist imagines it. The staging was abstract but effective - the same shapes doubled as the ribs of the ship that brings Ulysses back to Ithaca and as the bow that the suitors must string to win the queen's hand. As usual with English Touring Opera the parts are doubled and tripled up even to the extent that - for the first time that I can remember seeing - a female role is played by a man. I believe there is the usual debate about how much of the work is actually by Monteverdi - one must remember that this is a piece that wasn't performed for three centuries before scholarly reconstruction returned it to the repertoire - but like Poppea it ends it a beautiful duet between the two main characters: "O delle mie fatiche meta dolce e soave".

Readers will be pleased to hear that on this occasion I managed to maintain the conventions of polite society without inadvertently effecting bodily harm on any senior citizens. I also learned how to pronounce Telemachus; one is never too old to learn.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Don't clap too hard

I have been to see a live transmission of John Osborne's 'The Entertainer' and didn't really enjoy it. It was the least technically proficient of the similar shows that I have seen recently; there was something wrong with the focus all the way through, there appeared to be fewer cameras involved than normal and there were several brief interruptions to the signal. Worse than all that though was the fact that it didn't seem to me to be a particularly good or relevant play.

This would have been better

Kenneth Branagh is, of course, a very fine actor, but he didn't seem to be sleazy enough or old enough as Archie Rice. Greta Scacchi, last seen by your bloggist as Amanda Wingfield in 'The Glass Menagerie', was probably the pick of those on the stage, but even she wasn't enough. As in the case of Rattigan's 'The Deep Blue Sea' reviewed here recently, life has moved on so much as to render the play a pointless curiosity. The Entertainer uses the decline of music hall as a metaphor for Britain's loss of empire. Now this does result in some amusingly relevant references to the UKIP-style, Little Englander ethos currently predominant in the country, that were probably unthought of when it was decided to revive the piece, but even those cut price fascists don't actually aspire to restore the British Empire, or - one assumes - the music hall. So basically, who cares?

And this

The most amusing thing that happened was when I accidentally smacked an old woman in the face while overly flamboyantly opening the door for someone else. Both myself and the lady to whom I was being chivalrous laughed immensely; the victim didn't. Still, it will give her something to moan about other than the new five pound notes.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Es besteht keine Wahrscheinlichkeit

"Anyone who attempts to generate random numbers by deterministic means is, of course, living in a state of sin." - John von Neumann

I won't deny the sin, and I've always been suspicious of randomness. When I worked in the guided missile industry we were forbidden from using the word; which was one of the few comforting things about the whole environment. Anyway, the supposedly random music shuffle machine played this earlier today, which seemed fitting as it is the third anniversary of Lou Reed's death.

Take a walk on the wild side.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Handing on the baton

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end." - Seneca

Time for a quick wargaming round-up. Firstly, and rather unexpectedly, someone has asked me for the rules of my Romans in Britain rip off of Pony Wars. I have to admit that I never updated them after our last game although copious notes were made at the time. This was partly due to the arrival of the Hexon terrain which made me think that all the movement rules etc needed switching to hex based, partly because having played Lion Rampant I thought I might steal the melee rules from those, and partly because I am bone idle. Anyway I have sent them off as they stand and I hope they are useful. We enjoyed the couple of games that we had despite them being typical of any rules that I write by being rather over complex. Notwithstanding having bought some more slopes at Derby I would need quite a few more before having another go.

Speaking of Hexon terrain, I have ordered some more, but bits of trench rather than hills. I have cleared the annexe and set up the Through the Mud and the Blood scenario I'm planning to run in due course in order to see what elements I was short of. I had thought about making some, but the energy levels haven't returned after my illness so I bought them instead. I had to revolve the alignment of the terrain by 90 degrees from the standard C&C layout in order to get it to work. My order including the missing rifle grenadier has arrived and painting is underway. (As an aside, this morning the big bouncy woman managed in essentially the same breath to ask to see what I was painting, assert that I wouldn't show it to her in case she called it crap, and then deny - erroneously - that she ever said such a thing about the chariots in the first place; still, it was good to see her again) The other order, the one with the casualty figures for the shock markers, is delayed due to a broken arm.

The latest order - the Hexon one; please keep up - is to be picked up at Fiasco on Sunday where I am helping James run a Seven Years War game. It won't be Lobositz because we are using my car and it isn't that big. It also isn't that reliable so I hope we make it. Assuming we do then please feel free to come and say hello to James and, if you must, me.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Mais où sont les neiges d'antan!

 “Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding.”

And so to the opera. I'd never seen Der Rosenkavalier before and being both too lazy to do any research and too mean to buy a programme I was surprised to gradually realise that it was a Mozart pastiche, even to the extent of being over long. Still if one is going to find inspiration anywhere then why not start at the very top?

It's not really about the Rosebearer or indeed, as the original title apparently had it, about the Baron for whom he bears the the rose. Instead its central character is surely the Marschallin, a woman sent by her family into marriage with a much older man who willingly sacrifices happiness so others may marry for love. As the Buddha said “In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go?".

Musically the highlight is the trio at the end where the voices of the three sopranos - the male lead is played by a woman and in a Shakespearean twist spends a lot of time pretending to be a woman - combine to mark the turning point in all their lives. For the Marschallin, as she subsequently leaves the stage on the arm of the father of the bride, a recognition that time has passed. As for the wisdom of having an affair with someone the best part of twenty years one's junior in the first place, Strauss and his librettist Hofmannsthal pass no moral judgement; therefore neither will I.

Friday, 21 October 2016

“Now, Herbert Soppitt!”

"A man may be a fool and not know it, but not if he is married." - H. L. Mencken

And so to the theatre. I have been to see Northern Broadsides' production of J. B. Priestley's "When We Are Married", and after two recent theatrical disappointments what a treat it was. For those who have never seen it, the piece is, first and foremost, very funny. Described by its author as "A Yorkshire Farcical Comedy" it is all that and more. It was written in 1938; indeed when it was first performed Priestley himself said it would provide a distraction from “the state of Europe for an hour or two” and that's one of the many aspects of the play that is as true today as it was then. However, as with "An Inspector Calls", it is set in the Edwardian world of Priestley's childhood. Whereas that play used tragedy to highlight the smugness of a bourgeoisie unaware of the catastrophe awaiting them, this one does it with comedy to equal effect. But more than that, it captures the strains and stresses that will inevitably develop between two people who spend twenty five years in each other's company; anyone who has ever been married will find it uncomfortably true to life. As I said above, many things have changed in the last century, but many others have stayed exactly the same.

It was all to the usual high Broadsides standard and they even managed to squeeze some singing and dancing in. Rutter pinched the plum role of drunken press photographer Henry Ormonroyd for himself, which suited his ability (compulsion?) to ham it up. Special mention must go Steve Huison as Herbert Soppitt, a man with whom I have much empathy, and Kate Anthony as Clara Soppitt, a type of northern married woman whom your bloggist can confirm exists in real life.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

More Pike & Shotte

So we had another go at Pike & Shotte and once again it proved very enjoyable. James has outlined the set up here and will hopefully report on the battle complete with photos in due course, so I'll just note a few random points.
  • This was a more complex and larger game than the first. It would easily have lasted another evening had our busy schedules so allowed. 
  • As James writes in his blog, he tinkered with the standard troop types and statistics to reflect his view of how things were. I am in no position to comment, but I would point out that things might have gone more smoothly had the handouts he gave out contained the numbers he wished us to use instead of seemingly random entries which he repeatedly superseded with corrections. Just a thought.
  • We used the blunder rule - which seemed OK to me.
  • The movement element remains the favourite part of mine. It needs some adjusting to take account of the actual base sizes being used, especially regarding interpenetration. I'm still not convinced by the proximity rule, but it may well be that there are subtleties still to be revealed.
  • I also like the fact that that one cannot rally back to full strength and there was talk of importing that rule into the house versions of Piquet/FOB.
  • There were still some extreme results in melee. These aren't unknown in Piquet anyway and, as Peter pointed out, it might be a function of using saving throws. It wouldn't be at all hard to work out the maths of, say, D12 vs D4 compared to 8 D6 versus 2 D6 hitting and saving on different numbers; but I can't be arsed. Let's accumulate a bit more anecdotal evidence first.
  • I felt that the game flowed better than under Hell Broke Loose in a way that was hard to put one's finger on. James said that the table looked more like a Renaissance battle and that seemed an astute observation. I can't particularly think what aspect of the different mechanics would be behind that, but again it's worth keeping an eye on.
  • I think we are all agreed that the rules for commands breaking need to be a bit more sophisticated, with units weighted in some way. I would suggest that should also apply to the calculation of support in melee. It probably wouldn't matter in a horse and musket period, but here an arquebus unit plus a small pike unit could count as twice as good for support purposes as a colunella consisting of exactly the same numbers of troops; which doesn't seem to make much sense to me.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A classic study in homoerotic sadism

And so to the opera. From the title you will have deduced that it's Benjamin Brtitten, and you will be correct; Billy Budd to be precise. First let me say that musically it is superb. Opera North's male chorus get their chance to shine as the crew of H.M.S. Indomitable as their female counterparts did as nuns last week. The orchestra are, as ever, first rate and the cast, especially Roderick Williams in the lead role, sing gloriously. The stand out passage is that where Vere tells Budd of his fate; paradoxically, given that this is an opera, without any words being sung. The set is also striking, and actually conveys the atmosphere of a 74 gun ship of the line in the last decade of the eighteenth century. There are impressive bangs and flashes when the cannon are fired as the Indomitable seeks to close with the French ship it is chasing.

The problem is the story. Now, obviously if we are to start rejecting operas because of their plots then we won't have many (any?) left. But this is, I would suggest, both positively unpleasant and also ridiculous. For a view of the unpleasantness I can do no better than point you to an article written by James Fenton for the Guardian some years ago and from which the title quote comes. What is nonsensical is the significance that is attached to Budd's speech impediment. Now we've all known stammerers, we've all seen 'The King's Speech', we're all sympathetic to their plight. But I bet not one of us thinks that their frustration is a good excuse for killing someone, or that to do so is somehow consistent with being the epitome of goodness. This element was in the original novella by Melville; given how much else the writers changed they would have done well to junk that bit as well. (Another interesting take on the differences between book and opera can be found here.)

The libretto was, of course, co-written by E. M. Forster. The Nobel Prize for Literature is much in our minds at the moment, especially in the context of whether words set to music should count as literature. Forster was nominated for the Nobel thirteen times, but never won it. Interestingly the only other opera written based on the story of Billy Budd, by Ghedini and apparently never performed any more, had a libretto by Salvatore Quasimodo, the Italian Hermeticist poet who did, controversially, win the Nobel prize in 1959. When discussing Quasimodo, James Gardner wrote "There are two kinds of Nobel prize-winners in literature—those who honour that institution, and those who are honoured by it". I'm still not sure where Dylan fits in.

Ognuno sta solo cuor della terra
traffito da un raggio di sole:
ed è subito sera

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Oh my that little country boy could play

I probably won't be the only person posting this today as Chuck Berry turns 90.

You don't see many moustaches like that. Perhaps in the current political climate they'll make a comeback.

Monday, 17 October 2016

A 'True Wargamer' speaks

I have been outed on TMP, by Belgian Ray no less, as a true wargamer. It is needless to say a case of mistaken identity, or possibly he is on drugs. In any event he clearly doesn't read this blog. However, any praise is better than no praise and, duly inspired, I shall post today about wargaming related activities. Nothing I write shall mark me out as a true wargamer unless that denotes someone who doesn't particularly know what he's doing; which, on reflection, it just might.

I have returned with some enthusiasm to the Great War project. The figures are relatively easy to paint and I have now completed all the British that I need for the introductory scenario. Except one. This figure - a rifle grenadier - has not only not been painted, it hasn't been purchased; I'm not terribly sure why. Orders will shortly be placed. I mentioned in a previous post that at Derby I had bought an MG08 when I actually needed an MG08/15, but that I was going to paint it straight away for the hell of it. It turns out that it is indeed an MG08 that I need so, more by luck than judgement, that's another box that I can tick. That in turn means that I unexpectedly have enough Germans for the scenario as well, although I might paint up a couple more specific figures to differentiate those trained as bombers and runners.

A dreadful photograph

So what does that leave? I have made up a couple of Shock markers and am happy with those, but need to make another half a dozen. I have the bases, but need some casualty figures which will be included in the orders referred to above. More difficult is the means of identifying big men and sections. In the first instance will probably use the tokens that I use for To the Strongest! and damn the aesthetics, but need to work out the details. And then there is the terrain. I don't yet feel strong enough for sawing up hardboard or even cutting it up with a Stanley knife. I will however finish packing away the last game played in the annexe - a Napoleonic C&C game you will recall - which I started doing, but abandoned due to my illness; and then I shall set up the scenario and try to work out what I might need to buy/make.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Vesti la giubba

And so to the theatre. I have been to a production of Anthony Shaffer's two hander 'Sleuth'. I have never seen either of the films adapted from the play and so came to it cold; which is pretty much how I left it as well. It was well acted, had a very elaborate and kinetic stage set, but was - it seemed to me - clever for the sake of it. Given that one of its main themes was the playing of games as an alternative to really living life I should perhaps have been somewhat more engaged by it, especially as a secondary element was the ridicule of golden age detective fiction; a genre for which observers of the 'currently reading' section of the blog will know that I have a taste. But, sadly, I came away thinking "So what?"; my second disappointing theatrical experience in a couple of days.

It did refer to the zeitgeist in one unexpected way for a play written in 1970: the audience can have been left in no doubt that the current craze for dressing up as clowns can only end badly for those involved. The scene in which Tindle puts on the costume prompts both he and Wyke to sing Canio's aria from Pagliacci, which - and you know I love me some verismo - referenced neatly back to last week's performance of Il tabarro. It is perhaps no coincidence that in the play as well as in both operas the man sleeping with the married woman doesn't escape unpunished.

Changing the subject away from adultery, it is perhaps worth noting that Shaffer also wrote the screenplay to 'The Wicker Man', the favourite film of the big, bouncy woman; a film furthermore that starred Christopher Lee - featured in this very blog just the other day despite not being a wargamer - and Edward Woodward - who played the most famous wargaming assassin in British television history.

I hope you all noted the clown.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

I should have read the reviews

"Life is so constructed, that the event does not, cannot, will not, match the expectation"
 - Charlotte Brontë

 The quote comes from Villette, Charlotte's last novel, written after the deaths of her sisters. The West Yorkshire Playhouse have staged a play based on the book as part of their Brontë season, which in turn marks the 200th anniversary of Charlotte's birth. (For those not familiar with the geography, Haworth is local enough to Leeds for this to be a big deal; attentive readers may remember that a walk to Top Withens was my favourite event of 2015.) I'd marked this as something that I wanted to see and throughout my illness I have fretted that I would miss it; in the event I caught one of its last performances.

Unfortunately, I had worried unnecessarily because it was crap. I was aware that it was a 'reimagining', but hadn't anticipated a science fiction version concerned mainly with the ethics of cloning. Whatever the novel is about - and to some that might be emotional growth or female emancipation or to others (perhaps those of us with a Marxian bent) it might be the search for economic independence - it isn't concerned with the humanity or otherwise of those conceived in vitro. But even if one allows that this is a stand alone play that only borrows the characters and the bare bones of plot outline it still fails on its own terms. It was boring, confused and uninvolving and I left during the interval; something that I haven't done for years.

Anyway, all that aside, it does give me  chance to trot out one of the best quotes from the book: "Happiness is not a potato".  It's really hard to argue with that.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Pike & Shotte

"Fashion wears out more apparel than the man" - William Shakespeare

And so it is with wargames rules; new ones displacing old more perhaps because they are new than because they are better. One set that has definitely been fashionable for a while is Black Powder, but I personally hadn't played any of the family of rules before this week. We actually used the period specific Pike & Shotte supplement that James had picked up at Derby, with his Italian wars figures as pictured here.

As a first game we obviously got things wrong, especially the best tactics to use, but I enjoyed the game and was left with a positive impression. They contain a number of elements familiar from other newish rulesets that we have tried such as To the Strongest! and Lion Rampant. We shall have another crack next week and hopefully will have a better grip on things thereafter. In the meantime:

Good points:
  • They are a toolbox. They will stand up to the inevitable tinkering which we (for which read James) will inflict on them.
  • They were definitely quick play; we finished a sizeable enough game with a completely new set of rules in less than three hours.
  • The movement rules definitely appealed to me. There isn't much measurement and manoeuvering is treated - in most circumstances - in a very broad brush fashion.
  • I quite like the fact that you can't ever rally stuff back to full strength.
Bad points:
  • The rulebook is not well written or proofread. The reference sheet and the rulebook are not always in agreement with each other.
  • The rules for the restricted movement of units in close proximity to each other are difficult to understand; or at least they were difficult for me to understand. 
Sort-of-in-the-middle-there points:
  • There doesn't seem to be scope for the sort of fire, cause morale downgrade and then charge type of tactic to which I am used. It's probably that I just haven't worked out the correct combination of actions.
  • There are a variety of special rules (skirmish, elite etc etc) and we didn't really get to grips with these. One must assume that they add to the game.
  • One of James' criteria for judging rules is whether they allow - or indeed demand - that one 'wangle the angle'. These don't when opposing units are far apart, but seem nothing but angle wangling when they are close together. Once again, it may just be that I haven't got my head round it yet.
I won the game, as the Imperialists. I had a plan based on the rules for breaking command groups, and which didn't work at all. In the end my victory came because of rather good luck both in a cavalry melee where I got charged both in the back and the front and still came off best and in the final clash of pike blocks. I prefer games which are unpredictable, but hope that the way this game turned on a few dice rolls isn't what always happens. I should also mention that I lost a Gendarme vs Stradiot melee by rolling five dice and getting five ones, a less than 7,500 to 1 chance; I'm prepared to write that one off as a fluke.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

I have dined with kings...

 "Having these colossal accolades and titles, they get in the way." - Bob Dylan

A Nobel prize for Dylan! Well, that has got to be worth a rare second posting of the day.

You have elected the way of pain!

"The thing I have always tried to do is surprise people; to present them with something they didn't expect." - Christopher Lee

As far as I'm aware - and please correct me if you know better - Lee wasn't one of the many wargaming actors, unlike his colleague Peter Cushing. Nevertheless the surprise I have in mind is that I'm going to write about wargaming in what purports to be a wargaming blog. My convalescence has moved on from doing nothing except watch the television (a large number of documentaries about the second World War, just over half of the 1973 BBC series 'The Pallisers', and a reminder of how good Jeremy Brett was as Sherlock Holmes) to being able to do some painting. I have virtually finished the Roman legionaries that were mysteriously clogging up the desk and so had to decide what to do next. I believe that I mentioned that I bought a couple of German machine guns and crews (one firing and one being carried) at Derby. In my mind they were MG08/15 light machine guns, but on closer inspection they are the original MG08 medium guns and as such not much use for the scenario that I have in mind for the first try out of Through the Mud and the Blood. I therefore feel obliged to do what any wargamer would do in the circumstances, rush the shiny and new to the front of the painting queue ahead of any stuff that would actually fit in with my plans to play games. It's the only way.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Not the review of 2016

I inadvertently published a post yesterday entitled 'Review of 2016' prompting one keen reader - that would be you Mr Freitag - to tell me that I had left out the real highlight of my year. Maybe I did, or maybe I am optimistic that the best day of the year is yet to come. Currently I'm forecasting Friday October 21st to be very good; who knows, there could be others. In any event that post - an aide memoire for when I do post my eagerly anticipated review of the full year - has been reverted to draft.

As such it has been added to with yet more stuff. I have been to the cinema a couple of times, both films having a Latin American tinge. Firstly I went to see 'Que Horas Ela Volta?', a Brazilian film from last year, which was both funny and a microcosm of class conflict as described by Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto. Secondly I went to see 'Havana Moon', the film of the Rolling Stones concert in Cuba earlier this year. There wasn't much socialist theory going on there, despite Jagger referring to Richards as his compadre. There was, however, a huge amount of energy on display from four people who are even older than your bloggist, and have lived - how can I put this? - full lives. Anyway, if you like the Rolling Stones (and I do) then this contains some very impressive performances of songs such as 'Midnight Rambler', 'Paint It Black' and all the well known stuff. Jagger has to look ridiculous at some point in proceedings, presumably it's contractual, and here it is on 'Sympathy for the Devil' where he dons an ill-advised coat that reminded me less of the devil than of Giant Haystacks, the wrestler.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Il Dittico

And so to the opera. I have mentioned before my love of verismo and so I painfully rose from my sickbed (aka the rather swish reclining chair in my living room) to go and see a double bill of one act Puccini operas: Il tabarro and Suor Angelica.

I'd seen  the former about a decade or so ago when, and I acknowledge that this is of no interest to anyone else, I sat directly behind Germaine Greer in the audience. Verismo is perhaps easier to recognise than to define, but this is definitely the stuff. The plot should serve as a warning to anyone contemplating dabbling in anything extra-marital. Things really do not end well for the man sleeping with the married woman; although as some small compensation he gets some top tunes to sing while he's still with us. In fact life seems pretty miserable for everyone involved, but that's opera for you.

The latter work I had never seen, and it frankly wasn't any more cheerful. It isn't the bleakest opera about nuns; should you really want to be depressed then check out Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites. Forzano's libretto doesn't seem very sympathetic to the Roman Catholic church; the Christianity portrayed here is all about guilt and punishment; forgiveness of sins and redemption don't get much of a look in. However, musically it was excellent. The standout was Anne Sophie Duprels in the title role, a lovely voice and a more than passable backside. If that sounds unnecessary then you need to believe me that it wasn't anything like as gratuitous as the directorial decision to tell her to get her kit off in the first place. Many operas - Il tabarro for example - are rather erotically charged, and yet in all the dozens of Opera North productions that I've seen over the years everyone has always kept their clothes on. Quite why they decided that a piece set in a convent, with an all female cast and concerning a mother's grief at losing a child would benefit from nudity is not entirely clear. Rupert Christiansen, in his Telegraph review, describes that bit as 'rather naff' and he's not wrong.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Time in Eternity

When you were as an angel in my arms,
Had laid your bare head just below my chin,
Your length pressed up to mine, entrusting charms
My whole youth's starward longing could not win;
With still the murmur of your love in me,
Miracle-tones of all my lifelong hope,
I wished that there might start eternity
And seal forever that sweet envelope;
And as it did, my thoughts are now for you
As every star is blotted by the sun,
And so the sun itself
Has perished too,
And with it, every dream of mine
But one.

             - Tom Merrill

Wednesday, 5 October 2016


"I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world." - Socrates 

Needless to say, I fully concur with him. Nathanial Hawthorne once wrote that "Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth." Nothing demonstrates that lack of flourishing more than the stunted moral compass of Theresa May and her Little Englander acolytes.

My health continues to improve, although I still get tired very easily. Nevertheless I have managed to get out to a number of things, albeit far fewer than those that I had tickets for and didn't get to. I saw the National Theatre's broadcast of 'The Threepenny Opera', which was excellent. At the risk of repeating myself, these broadcasts really are a great resource for those of us who live in the provinces. I have also seen a touring production of 'A Tale of Two Cities', entertaining enough, but Sidney Carton's actions never get any more plausible. I find the alternative put forward by Keith Laidler in 'The Carton Chronicles' to be much more convincing. Last, but not least, I have been to see Peggy Seeger. Despite being in her eighties she is still in fine voice and is a more than effective multi-instrumentalist. She was strongest on the more personal songs, those written for her by her late brothers or by Ewan MacColl. And the young chap accompanying her did what I thought was impossible; he played a banjo - a fretless banjo in this case - in a way that I actually enjoyed.

And, for the record, I voted for Jeremy Corbyn again.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

I will speak with the King or I will die

"In war there is no prize for runner-up" - Seneca

Or is there? I have been to the Derby Worlds wargame show to help James with his display game and he followed up last year's 'Best Display Game' with winning joint 'Best Display Game' this year. The concept of two games receiving exactly the same number of votes in a secret ballot of the hundreds of punters attending the show seems somewhat unlikely, so I suspect a stitch up somewhere along the line. Quite who got shafted and why must remain a mystery, but I doubt it was us; the co-winners were monumentally pissed (1) all day so perhaps there was a moral dimension to whatever happened.

My usual role at these affairs is to carry things from the car to the table and then back again, but my illness made this impossible so I switched to ensuring that history was reversed and the Prussians lost the Battle of Lobositz. The scenario opens with a futile cavalry charge, but somehow the attack actually did rather well, dislodging two of the infantry units in the sunken road. Sadly I got carried away with it all, pressed the attack too much and then the wheels came off. Frederick did a runner - I still have no idea how he came to be Frederick the Great - and things slowly disintegrated. I must spare a mention for the Prussian Garde du Corps. Normally guard units on the tabletop perform appallingly, it's one of the most well known laws of wargaming, but on this occasion they swept all before them and at the end remained the only Prussian unit not to have suffered a fall in morale.

I also had a quick go at the participation game of the Battle of Northampton put on by the author of the Wargaming for Grown-Ups blog, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was quick, based on what happened historically, but also allowing for the 'military possibilities' beloved of Messrs Featherstone and Roach. For the record I won a major victory as the Yorkists, capturing and executing all of the leaders on the Lancastrian side, but sadly failing to seize Henry VI.

There was a small amount of shopping. I bought some Hexon slopes. I really struggle with the three dimensional thinking required when laying it all out, but I believe (hope!) that I have bought the bits necessary to put out some straight edge raised ground. I also bought some trees from the, er, tree man and a couple of German machine guns - one being fired, one being transported - from Early War Miniatures. Hopefully this will give a bit of impetus to the still sadly languishing Great War project.

So, a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. It left me tired, but I'm glad that I went. It's a good venue - the breakfast is astonishing value - and the organisers are helpful and efficient. I look forward to returning.

(1) for the benefit of Americans and others who don't have English as their first language that is pissed as in inebriated.