Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017

I have had better years, but I suppose I should be grateful that we are still here and that neither the tangerine half-wit or the only fat person in North Korea have yet blown us all to kingdom come. In which spirit I offer you my highlights of 2017:



Opera: I have seen 15, albeit a number of them being single act works in Opera North's latest 'Little Greats' season. Among these was a 'Trial by Jury' which I can honestly say was the first Gilbert & Sullivan that I have ever enjoyed. Am I getting old? However, the best piece that I saw was a chamber version of 'The Turn of the Screw' while other highlights included a wonderful semi-staged Turandot and the first Tosca I have seen where the heroine actually throws herself off the battlements instead of doing away with herself in a manner unfaithful to the libretto, but simpler to portray on stage.



Theatre: I saw 46 plays (including Romeo and Juliet four times) which only included one real stinker (which wasn't one of the Romeo and Juliets), plus a few that I wouldn't bother to watch again (which did include one of the Romeo and Juliets). A few things stand out: 'Twelfth Night' at the Globe, Bazza's farewell, and a very explicit 'Rita, Sue and Bob Too'. I'm going to award two prizes: Best One Man Show which will be shared between 'The Autobiography of Jane Eyre' and James Hornsby's 'David Copperfield' and Best Theatrical Experience That Has Something Loosely To Do With Jane Austen which is also shared, this time between 'Mr Darcy Loses the Plot' and 'Austentatious'.




Films: I saw 15 on the big screen. Of the new ones (I'll exclude Vertigo and The Graduate from consideration) the best was 'The Handmaiden' which I highly recommend, although as I think I said at the time it's best not to watch it with your mother. Honourable mentions go to 'The Death of Stalin' (did anyone else think Jason Isaac's Zhukov was essentially an homage to Sean Bean?) and 'Baby Driver'.



Books: I am bereft. I can find no indication that there is any intention to translate the fourth book in the 'Fortunes of France' series into English, let alone the rest of them. This is a disaster. In the absence of 'Le Prince que voila' I am instead going to go for 'The Song of Achilles' by Madeline Miller.

"Throw me a frickin' bone here!" 

Gigs: I have seen 43 of these with the blues featuring very strongly. Nevertheless Tom Russell, whom I saw twice, has to be the best with honourable mentions for Wille and the Bandits, Devon Allman and Eugene 'Hideaway' Bridges.

Pancho Villa crossed the border...

Wargames: Highlight of the year was undoubtedly the trip to Kirriemuir, the biggest game that I am ever likely to play in, and the chance to roll dice with with Charles S. Grant. It was excellent, but it was a long, long way. Best game in the annexe was, I think, the ersatz Eckmuhl with Prussians standing in for Austrians in an EPIC C&C scenario. Best game at James' was Sidi Rezegh. No, just kidding, it was his Garigliano scenario, especially the four player game.



Event of the year: This is a tough one. Possibly I should just acknowledge the fact that this year I didn't get taken to A&E in an ambulance even once. It's also hard to look beyond the kick-off for the new rowing boats on the river, which was extremely funny and compelling in a 'can't take your eyes off it, car crash' sort of way; the lesson learned being that Members of Parliament shouldn't get in a rowing boat with someone four times as heavy as themselves. However, I'm going to plump for what happened in Knaresborough on May 30th, the significance of which wasn't fully understood at the time, and the details of which I am not going to reveal.


Observant readers may have noted that some of the items mentioned above are making their first appearance here. My diarist's mojo deserted me at some point in the autumn with the one beneficial result being that I have no longer had the compulsion to tell you either what I hate for breakfast (porridge with cinnamon, honey and sultanas as it happens) or every last detail of my ongoing cultural pseudery. Among the other elements of my life to be jettisoned was playing boardgames, hence the lack of reports on those recently. I had become somewhat jaded with it all, but I think a period away has restored my appetite and I expect to pick it up again in the new year. If you're really lucky I'll start writing ill-informed guff about operas again as well.


Saturday, 30 December 2017

Her love like the leaves....

I'm building up to a proper post tomorrow. In the meantime we all need cheering up when it's dark and cold so let's see if Hank Williams can do the trick:



Saturday, 23 December 2017

Tobit 8:2

This blog has long had an interest in the movement of the earth around the sun and so it is fitting that as the days start to get longer once again that we find the time for another post. There are many reasons for our absence, and possibly the least among them is that I have hurt my arm dry brushing. There was a level of derision in certain quarters when I passed on that news, but unlikely as it sounds, it's true. Perhaps readers deserve a recap.

When I was last here I was playing through a solo try out of my 'Blue Guitar' company level (or possibly battalion or even brigade level - I'm not entirely sure what the naming convention is) Great War wargames rules, and also providing a much needed running score update of the cricket in Australia. What happened next was that there was a bit of a cold snap in the UK and my enthusiasm for going outside to the annexe to roll dice and push little plastic men around a table rather dwindled. It seemed a convenient point to pause, properly write up all the rule amendments arising from the playtest and start again. In particular as weapon ranges had been shortened during the game the defending Germans had suddenly found themselves isolated from each other and rather easy to pick off, one unit at a time.

As I said earlier, it was a bit parky so I retreated to the warm to do some painting and modelling of various player aids. I wanted to make some smoke markers and after due consideration decided to make these out of wire wool. (I should mention that the same doubters mentioned above were also sceptical about this choice, given the material's noted flammability and my own equally well documented propensity to set things alight whilst painting them.) One attraction to me was the opportunity to get out the hot glue gun, which I have owned for years, but which never sees the light of day. Inexplicably, but somehow inevitably, despite never using it I had managed to run out of glue sticks, thereby causing a delay while more were procured.

At that point the cold weather gave way to wet and several more days passed before I could take the stuff outside to spray it with primer. I decided to prime in grey, thinking to dry brush over the top in white. This was a mistake. The grey was much darker than I thought it would be - in fact it was almost exactly the shade on the cap of the can; who'd have thought it? - and wire wool is an absolute bugger to dry brush. This coupled with yet another duff decision, namely to model enough markers to make a smoke screen a metre in length all in one go, have given me a painful RSI type strain to my arm coupled with a great reluctance to overbrush with any more shades. So, my advice for anyone wishing to make some smoke is to prime in white and, even more importantly, don't use wire wool in the first place.

In case I should not post again before Christmas - and let's face it, I won't - Happy Yontiff to you all.


Friday, 8 December 2017

Puedo escribir los versos más tristes

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
Write, for example, 'The night is shattered,
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.'
The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.
She loved me, and sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes?
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost
her.
To hear the immense night, still more immense without
her,
And the verse falls to the snow like dew to the pasture.
What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
That night is shattered and she is not with me.
This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the
distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
My sight searches for her as though to go to her.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.
The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.
I no longer love her, that is certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.
Another's. She will be another's. Like my kisses before.
Her voice. Her bright body. Her infinite eyes,
I no longer love her, that is certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.
Because through nights like this one I held her in my
arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer,
and these the last verses that I write for her.

                                            - Pablo Neruda

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Never give all the heart

Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.

                  - W. B. Yeats

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

England batting collapse

That headline has not been at all uncommon during my lifetime and I woke up to it again this morning, along with the smell of fish; I cooked some halibut last night and the aroma has been a bit persistent. Anyway, it has seemed to me that I haven't been very informative in the last few blog posts - unless of course you were using this a very slow way of following the progress of the cricket. In which case Australia won by 120 runs.

Having stumbled into doing the Great War by accident I started small (platoon level trench raids with the Two Fat Lardies), then decided to aim big (a division a side with Peter Pig) and so, inevitably enough, thought why not split the difference and do something at battalion level or thereabouts. I really didn't want single figure removal, nor to worry about looking at individual models to see what weapons they were carrying. I bought a copy of 'Crush the Kaiser', which are at the right level and are full of good stuff, but still - oddly and annoyingly - do both those things.

What was needed, it seemed to me, was a rules root stock onto which I could graft the bits I liked from existing sets plus the bits that I thought others had overlooked. I thought about Piquet, but life is too short frankly. I didn't want a grid game particularly as whenever I get round to it Square Bashing is one of those. We've been playing a fair bit of Black Powder recently - Pike & Shotte to be precise - and they crack along quite quickly to a conclusion so I thought they would be a good place to start. I especially like the blunder rule; it's always easier to represent units not doing what you want than it is to represent them doing what you don't want.

There are however a number of differences between the Great War and the Renaissance ["No shit, Sherlock?"] including not comprehensively and in no particular order:

  • Relative homogeneity of troop types
  • Open formations
  • Importance of cover and therefore indirect fire
  • Ongoing melee not being appropriate
  • Distance not being the prime factor in command difficulty 
On top of that I rather like an element of meta-gaming (think the opposite of 'play the period, not the rules') and have for example often wondered what sort of game Piquet would be if you knew what sequence the next few cards were going to come out in. The shared tableau of cards in the newish 'Epic' rules for C&C Napoleonics is also the sort of thing that I'm talking about; do you take the card you want, or the one you think your opponent wants?

I have therefore been experimenting with all of the above, so far only with basic infantry and medium support weapons. If it works - judgement reserved at the moment; it's easy playing games when you can just change the rules on a whim; are you listening James? - I shall add artillery plus chrome such as German Stormtroopers and, as I suppose I must, tanks. There will be no gas; it might seem an odd line to draw given the overall subject matter, but nevertheless there it is. If it makes the chemists feel any better there won't be any aircraft either.




Tuesday, 5 December 2017

442-8 dec and 138 all out; 227 all out and 176-4

So, as Aaron has pointed out, what a difference a day makes. To the game in Adelaide that is; twenty four hours has made remarkably little difference to the ongoing playtest of Blue Guitar. Those who aren't in tune with the rhythm of cricket can sometimes be heard wondering aloud about the nature of a contest played out over a series of five games each lasting five days. Well, what I'm doing seems to have the potential to last longer than the Ashes. However, if I were to be controversial I would say that the case against day-night test matches gets stronger with every game, whereas I am cautiously optimistic about my Great War rules. Except perhaps for their speed. 



I've made it a bit harder to blunder although this still hasn't done much for the companies on both the British and German left flanks who both not only failed to respond to orders to advance, but instead moved randomly backwards. The battalion on the British left has also lost its 2-i-c (not to enemy action - one can only speculate as to where he has disappeared to), on top of which the British support weapons have still not deployed. There has however been some combat at last which has highlighted that while the disordered mechanism seems to work I had set the saving throw at too easy a level.

A really obscure view from behind the German left
I remain relatively happy with the shifting turn sequence.


Monday, 4 December 2017

442-8 dec and 53-4; 227 all out

Despite the improvement in the weather in South Australia I was only able to find time for one move in the extremely slowly developing playtest of Blue Guitar. I didn't plan the scenario in any great detail and simply plonked the British on the baseline; indeed at the time the thing that more concerned me was the realisation that there were more bases in each unit than either utility or appearance demanded. I also didn't do the attackers any favours by putting their support weapons in the middle. The one upside is that the time it is taking for the game to progress has given me more chances to tinker (refine?).

The colonel waves his pistol in despair as his men advance the wrong way

The battalion on the British left has been rolling some very odd command dice and as a result its tactics can perhaps be best described as doing the hokey-cokey. The one company that is getting anywhere has entered the woods, and so that's where the German mortar is now targeting.  In the centre the support weapons have been unable to set up despite the best efforts of the brigade 2-i-c who was despatched to sort things out, although the dead observer has successfully been replaced.


On the other flank the Germans have seized the initiative and moved into the woods where all logic suggests they should have been anyway. Their sniper has been moving steadily forwards - the rules as to how he does that have changed several times so far and may well change again - and has picked off one of the British company commanders. That unit will suffer a permanent -1 to their command roll.


Sunday, 3 December 2017

442-8 dec; 29-1

The latest stage in the solo run through of the Blue Guitar Great War rules was somewhat curtailed by the evening rain in Adelaide, to the extent that once again nothing much happened. Things weren't helped by all the companies in the battalion on the British left being sent off in various directions by blunder rolls. The Germans have continued to target the road with their mortar, but the British haven't had the opportunity to move along it anyway.


In the centre the observer for the Stokes mortars was sent forward, but, after some rapid rule writing and a truly terrible throw of the dice on behalf of the British, was caught by machine gun fire and removed from play. Cue some more hurried creativity to work out how a new one can be put in place. On their right the issue was repeated failing of command rolls despite my patent method (essentially stolen from Crush the Kaiser) to reduce the chance of this happening.


The have been another couple of rule changes (enhancements?), but I'll just mention that, notwithstanding what I wrote yesterday, I have decided that what the game really needs is separate 'Command' and 'Rally' phases.


The early finish did however give me a chance to check out the Otley Victorian Christmas Fayre. In addition to buying the traditional festive samosa, seasonal food of choice of the nineteenth century working man, I was rather taken by Hardcastle's Amazing Human Vegetable Machine, which I don't recall seeing before.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

209-4

I had an hour so in the annexe this morning while listening to the cricket from Australia and got a couple of turns done. Considering that I wrote the rules there was a surprising amount of checking as to what was supposed to happen next, as a result of which not much actually did. Still, early days.


The brown circle is a rather undercooked marker indicating that the Germans are mortaring the road to deny passage to the British. The 'M's indicate that those support weapons have moved and so cannot fire and the just visible 'O's show that those units are able to use opportunity fire. For those of you keeping track of these things the following is the phase sequence as at the end of turn 2. The 'Rally' phase should probably be called 'Command' phase or perhaps 'Officer Check' for the Piquet players among you.


Friday, 1 December 2017

To lay his brain upon the board

I have previously mentioned that I have been writing my own set of Great War rules; or, perhaps it would be fairer to say that I have been melding together bits the I like from other sets while discarding the bits that I don't. Clearly this may result in a majestic set of rules far superior to anything ever seen on the tabletop, perfectly simulating the battlefield of the period and providing a game both gripping and subtle. Equally, and one must suspect far more likely, it may well be an unworkable and unplayable abomination bearing no relation to the Western Front as anyone understands it. There is only one way to find out and so, after a few small scale and half-hearted efforts, I have set up a larger game for a solo run through of the rules, which are named, for now at least, 'Blue Guitar'.


The is no particular assumed narrative behind this, it's sometime in the middle of 1918 during the German retreat. Two battalions of British plus brigade machine gun and mortar assets have come up against a German battalion covering a bridge.


The only conclusion that I have come to so far from setting it out is that the companies (unit is company, command level is battalion-ish) each have one too many stands, so I shall remove the surplus before beginning the game. It has also become apparent that my recent painting spree did not include enough Lewis guns, that there are not quite enough command and communication markers until the recently arrived order from Warbases is painted, and that some of the other player aids such as smoke and explosion markers will have to wait until I decide what size they need to be. However all of those are really only a question of aesthetics and so tomorrow - or possibly the day after if something better comes up in the meantime - I shall play upon the Blue Guitar.

The starting turn sequence

Thursday, 30 November 2017

creux roseaux domptés par le talent

"A roll of the dice will never abolish chance." - Stéphane Mallarmé

Mallarmé may have structured 'Un Coup de Dés Jamais N'Abolira Le Hasard' around the number 12, or possibly 7 or even 707. The latest game in the legendary wargames room was structured around the number 1. Piquet - for we have returned to our roots - is a game of opposed dice throws. Last night the first seven (it's that number again) response dice rolls were all ones, a something like 300,000 to 1 chance that only stopped when it would have been of any use to me. It's a good scenario, well worth reading about assuming James writes it up on his blog - but I'm afraid it's already not looking good for the Prussians.

As we are on the subject of wargaming I am still working away on the latest iteration of the Great War project to which I shall return shortly in excruciating detail. In the meantime I have made a 6" Newton heavy mortar for the British forces and once again I have taken a bad photo which I can't be bothered to reshoot.


Both this and the 17cm Minenwerfer would have been fired from specially dug pits, but because modelling them like that wouldn't have worked with base sizes that I wanted to use, I shall be making some sandbag enclosures to surround them.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

The Budget - an analysis

“Every time I hear a political speech or I read those of our leaders, I am horrified at having, for years, heard nothing which sounded human. It is always the same words telling the same lies. And the fact that men accept this, that the people’s anger has not destroyed these hollow clowns, strikes me as proof that men attribute no importance to the way they are governed; that they gamble - yes, gamble - with a whole part of their life...”

                                          - Albert Camus





Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Tomorrow's almost over

I was very sorry to hear of the death of Rodney Bewes. I can't have been the only upwardly socially-mobile working class kid with whom 'Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads' resonated, with its subtext of the breaking up of friendship groups as different levels of ambition and educational opportunity played out. There was more to him than Bob Ferris of course; I have an excellent audio book of 'The Good Companions' narrated by him, which I would immediately dig out and listen to except that I have bought a new car and technological progress being what it is this one doesn't have a CD player. As a bit of a digression, this is why the old car had to go:



And then of course there is the appropriation of the sitcom's name by a group of wargamers in the Lower Wharfe Valley. On first meeting them the big question I asked myself was which one was Thelma; there were, and indeed still are, several plausible candidates. Speaking of which, James has now posted a report of the big game on his blog which shows the huge scale of the thing rather more than my own photos do. Notwithstanding James' outing me as a bald bloke in red I am in fact the slim chap in the striped blue sweater. Be that as it may, it gives me an excuse to post another of the pictures that I took.

My home city of Modena

In the background I have continued to produce support weapons for my re-focused Great War project, including a scratch built 17cm Minenwerfer with which I am so sufficiently not displeased that I shall include a photo.


Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The Toss O'Ecclefechan

Bye attour my Gutcher has
A heich house and a laich ane,
A' forbye my bonie sel,
The toss o' Ecclefechan. 
 
 - Robert Burns, "The Lass O'Ecclefechan"


Not one person has asked me about Ecclefechan, but obviously that won't stop me answering their questions. Although mostly associated with Thomas Carlyle - and I'd like to think that to all my readers he is a man who needs no introduction - the other notable resident of the graveyard is Archibald Arnott, one of the physicians who was attending Napoleon on St Helena when he died and possibly - but probably not - the man who took the former Emperor's death mask; at least not the one from which the copy was made that we've all seen in the Musée de l'Armée. 


Nothing to do with Ecclefechan

As luck would have it I have a friend who lives nearby, but when I asked her about the place her only reply was the enigmatic "Ecclefechan tarts are tasty". She didn't mention the blended whisky named after the village at all.


She forgot the Fechan whisky

Monday, 20 November 2017

When is a Scotsman not a Scotsman?

“Ever in the dullest existence there is a sheen either of Inspiration or of Madness” - Thomas Carlyle

Certain things in the life of Epictetus have not been going as one would wish. I have naturally reacted in the manner that befits an eminent Stoic philosopher and have been sitting in a darkened room sobbing softly to myself. I was however roused from this state by the invitation of James to be one of his assistants at a game he was putting on for the League of Gentlemen Wargamers. We therefore screwed our courage to the sticking place and ventured into Scotland. Pausing only briefly at Ecclefechan to pay our respects, it merely took us a very long time indeed to drive to Kirriemuir. 

The view from Venice, with the Alps on the far right

I trust that James will post about the game comprehensively, and as umpire he had an overview and is best placed to do so, and so will others no doubt; indeed the King of France's take can already be found here. I will therefore restrict myself to my own part in proceedings which, apart from constantly asking "Are we there yet?", was to be in charge of the city of Modena (to paraphrase Pope John XXIII: "Wargamers are like wine - some improve with age, but others turn to vinegar"). If I have any complaints about what was otherwise an excellent weekend it would be about the limitations of my geographic position, with rivers on two sides and impassable mountains on a third. However, and this more than compensated, on the fourth side were the forces commanded by none other than Charles S. Grant; and I was privileged to spend a couple of days rolling dice against the author of Tabletop Teasers himself. That won't mean anything to my non-wargaming readers, but those in the brotherhood will recognise that this is a story to tell one's grandchildren.


The photograph above shows a part of the Venetian army as it trailed down past Bologna towards Rome in order to do battle with the Pope, following the King of France's decision to break with the Pontiff. Similar columns from Milan, Ferrara and from France itself also wound unmolested past Genoa, Modena and Bologna. I am proud to say that immediately after they had moved down into Tuscany the three cities previously mentioned all left the French alliance, declared for Spain and moved towards the Po with the intention of rampaging through the undefended territories north of it. I take no pleasure in reporting that we didn't get there, but it was a good plan nonetheless.

"A gentleman is simply a patient wolf" - Lana Turner

Monday, 6 November 2017

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

The nine of clubs

"The challenge for Nine of Clubs people is to let go with grace and gratitude... and not fall to the lower vibration of apathy or self-pity."


Last weekend saw Fiasco, the local wargames show here in Leeds, and the passout token for those putting on games was a playing card; the one they gave me was the nine of clubs: so challenge accepted. The show itself was good in the morning and dead in the afternoon. Our demo of Zorndorf went very much with the flow; I don't think we played a turn after lunch. Astonishingly I have seen some reviewers complain that the organisers gave space to a charity cake stall. Fortunately Epictetus is in such peak physical shape these days that he was able to indulge himself with a bun or two and I can report that they were rather good; I hope that they are back next year. Other purchases included yet more trees from the tree man plus what is possibly the worst set of rules that I have ever read.



I bought a second hand set of Mailed Fist Wargames group's WWI rules and the best thing I can find to say about them is that it was only £3 wasted, or three cakes worth if you will. I won't take up too much of your time with them, but perhaps the oddest bit is the lack of any rules at all for machine guns because "they [were] a little thin on the ground". The author does however include specific stats for the 420cm L/12, Type M-Gerät 14, better known as the 'Big Bertha', of which only twelve were ever made and whose minimum range is somewhat longer than my table. I am more and more minded to stop buying WWI rules and instead to write my own; I'm envisaging a glorious mash-up of every family of rules that I've ever played plus the added complexity which inevitably creeps in every time that I try to devise something for wargaming use. The one thing that is certain is that the scale of these wonderful - though as yet unwritten - rules will be 12-15 figures per company, which should allow me to play a game of a brigade a side. I have it in mind to name them after one of C.R.W. Nevinsion's Great War paintings, perhaps 'A Dawn', which is just about to be sold for a shed load of money.


A game at that level requires a higher proportion of officers and support weapons than I had previously assumed. I have therefore scoured continental Europe for the out of production HaT German Heavy Weapons set and progress on painting has been brisk. October figures were:


Granatenwerfer 4
MG08/15 4
MG08 1
Flamethrower team 1
Minenwerfer 1
German bombers 4
German riflemen 10
British riflemen 7
British officers 12
Lewis guns 3

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

If You Forget Me

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
remember
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

But
if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

             - Pablo Neruda

Monday, 16 October 2017

Two Minds

Your mind and mine are such great lovers they
Have freed themselves from cautious human clay,
And on wild clouds of thought, naked together
They ride above us in extreme delight;
We see them, we look up with a lone envy
And watch them in their zone of crystal weather
That changes not for winter or the night.

              - Sara Teasdale

Monday, 9 October 2017

Are we there yet?

I suspect that there are many people saying that they won't be going back to the Derby Worlds show in 2018 if it's at the same venue, and I am certainly among them. From my point of view the distance alone would be sufficient reason. If it takes twice as long to get somewhere from the Lower Wharfe Valley as it does from the Lower Lea Valley then it really can't count as a northern show. The last half hour of the journey was on narrower and narrower, but otherwise identical, country roads with no sense of getting any closer to anywhere worth going. The venue was - and if you follow many wargames blogs you are going to get fed up reading this - far too small for the number of traders and games squeezed into it, and became very noisy and very hot; admittedly the last bit was in contrast to the previous venue being far too cold. There also weren't enough toilets. On the plus side the light was a huge improvement, as could be seen if I had bothered to take any photos.

James didn't win best game this year, but then again nor did anyone else, the new organisers having apparently decided the concept wasn't worth the trouble. The game went down very well with the punters though and so I think he can claim a moral victory. We played it through once each day, with the same result both times - a French victory. Given that the original battle was an overwhelming defeat for the French who suffered forty times the casualties of the Spanish, it would seem that the scenario and/or the rules aren't quite doing what they were supposed to (1). It did make for a good game though.

 There was a small amount of shopping: as usual at shows some trees from Last Valley (only another ten years or so of show attendance and I'll have enough to refight Hanau); Blandford's 'Army Uniforms of World War 1' at a very reasonable price from the Bring and Buy; and a copy of EWM's 'Crush the Kaiser' rules. These last are at a level that appeals to me, but do on first reading seem to have a number of areas which are not spelled out in much detail. However, I do seem to have enough figures to try them out, whereas I'm still way off being able to play 'Square Bashing'.

(1) For what it's worth I think that to make the scenario better reflect the battle (and as a corollary the game less fun to play) the French should be downgraded in some way to reflect their march to the town and their unpreparedness.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Pot70pouri

"The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing" - Marcus Aurelius

Autumn has arrived  in the Wharfe Valley which must mean it's time for the Derby Worlds. As James has written in his blog a highly untrained scratch team will be putting on an Italian Wars game. In Peter's absence the role of crap dice supremo is still up for grabs, but driving duties have been passed my way. The Stoicmobile has seen better days, but with a full tank and some more air in the tyres it might yet get us there and back, wherever 'there' actually is this year; all I currently know is that it's even further away from Derby than ever. Someone more clued up that me tells me that we're 'just inside the entrance to the right' so feel free to come and chat about the impending launch of my new range of gender neutral wargames clothes.

Speaking of toxic masculinity, I have been in a fight (OK, scuffle) for, I think, only the second time in my life (1). I don't count giving the National Front a bit of a kicking from time to time during the seventies; that comes under the heading of public service. Nor do I include the occasion a fellow student thumped me in the union bar; sadly he's no longer with us and, on reflection, he had a point anyway. In this latest incident the owner of the local launderette upon discovering that he had misplaced my duvet lost the plot completely and tried to physically throw me out of the shop (2). A few brief moments of pushing and shoving was only brought to an end by the arrival of another customer. At that point the madman drew out a very fat wallet and started slapping down twenty pound notes on the counter with great force. Showing immense restraint I only took two and then walked around the corner and bought a replacement for £16; the rest is going into the Derby Worlds new toy fund. The whole thing was very funny.

(1) By coincidence one of those present at the first fight - which took place in 1975 and accounts for the shape of my nose - will be helping out with the game on Saturday.
(2) It is possible that I had first expressed my dissatisfaction with the level of customer service in a fairly trenchant manner.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Repent, Harlequin

And so to the opera. I have been to see the traditional verismo pairing of Pagliacci and Cavallieri Rusticana; a double dose of beautifully sung adultery and murder. It is encouraging to know that should I ever meet a sticky end at the hands of an outraged husband that it will all be accompanied by some top tunes. Musically, Cav is surely the stronger, but for sheer non-stop in-your-face passion and drama I think one has to go with Pag. The Commedia dell'Arte of the original here became the rehearsal of an Opera North production, in a very meta self-referential interpretation that worked very well apart from not making any sense at all. Still, the audience were carried along by the central thrusts of the plot, and there was indeed much thrusting, not to mention writhing. The attractive and voluptuous faithless wife and her, it must be said, rather handsome and dashing lover, were perhaps not as discreet as they thought they were being, are dobbed in to the husband by a jealous male rival and pay the inevitable consequence. Cav on the other hand is completely different. Transposed from post Risorgimento Sicily to Communist Poland, the cheating wife and her lover aren't very discreet, are dobbed in to the husband by a jealous female rival and pay the consequence. Contrast and compare.

It's worth noting that the male rival, Tonio, is a nasty piece of work, whereas the female, Santuzza, is both wronged and, frankly, completely bonkers. I wouldn't like to get too close to either of them, nor indeed to either of the husbands. The lover's mother in Cav was basically Dot Cotton with a somewhat more melodious voice and the evening was a bit like a scrambled Christmas Day afternoon in front of the TV where the picture was back to back Eastenders specials and the soundtrack was the carol service from Kings College. Verismo indeed.

One last point. I am not sure - and can't be arsed to find out - if I have ever made clear this blog's position vis a vis clowns, but for the avoidance of doubt: they are not funny.


Saturday, 30 September 2017

And are you grown so high in his esteem;

And so to the theatre. I seem to have neglected to mention that I went to see an enjoyable, 1960s themed production of  'A Midsummer Night's Dream' earlier in the month. There were the usual cross gender characters, including Puck and Aegeus, though the strangest casting choice was surely to have Hermia taller than Helena; very odd. The actor playing Oberon/Theseus played the former as Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider and the latter as Che Guevara, a man about whom I predict we will hear an awful lot more over the next couple of weeks.

"Ill met by moonlight"

More recently I have seen Bazza's farewell in Northern Broadsides' 'For Love or Money', an adaptation of Lesage's 'Turcaret' by Blake Morrison. It's very funny, especially the second act where all the plot  contrivances - it's a farce - come to fruition. Morrison has placed what he enticingly describes as a "horribly recognisable world of avarice, deceit and sexual shenanigans" in 1920s Yorkshire. If the West Riding had a Jazz Age - and I think we must assume that it didn't - then this is it. I have often referred to Rutter's tendency to overact, but it was surprisingly emotional knowing that it was the last time I'd see him leave the stage, and I'm pleased to say that he got the ovation his record deserved.


Friday, 29 September 2017

The village was burned

Belated spoiler alert, but the Romans won, although only just. It looked at first as if it was going to be all too easy for them - despite one of their three commands repeatedly refusing to cross the river - but one of the Britons' warbands got on a bit of a roll and coupled with the late arrival into action of the chariots made a bit of a game of it.


The scenario worked well enough. I was rather pleased with the mechanism for burning the village, which seemed to hit the required Golidlocks spot and was neither too easy nor too difficult. Once again we came to the conclusion that the Army Lists are too kind to the Romans; I shall definitely change that next time. And perhaps it would be better if next time was reasonably soon, as there was a very large amount of rules rustiness. The other grid based game that we play most often is C&C and there was lots of confusion between the two: can you fire at an adjacent unit? does terrain affect the hex or the boundary? etc. Perhaps we should be grateful that no one tried to perform a diekplous. I'm always reluctant to criticise the tabletop tactics of others - it would seem to imply a claim to some toy soldier acumen on my part when all the evidence tends to suggest the opposite - but I have to say that I might have sent the chariots across the open terrain rather than through the woods and over the river.


Anyway, for my reference rather than yours, these are the changes I will consider next time:
  • Celtic commanders can be detached
  • Warbands and chariots to be a point or two cheaper
  • Warbands to be allowed a (once per game?) charge of two squares, perhaps with a penalty if they don't succeed.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

We're going to need a bigger boat

There wasn't much boardgaming in August, but September proved to be the first month in a yonk during which I played more games than in the same period last year. Here's a catch up:

7 Wonders: I remain no good whatsoever at this game. I do however continue to be a fan of its design, especially the fact that adding more players in (up to the maximum of seven obviously) doesn't add to the time taken.

Abluxxen: It's a baffling game for those new to it, but it's worth persevering with, because it's a nice filler.

Castle of Caladale: When I saw that this involved pattern matching I knew that it wouldn't end well. When I learned that players could constantly rearrange their tableau during the game it was obvious it would be really bad. And so it proved.

Mine did not look like this.

Codenames: I have nothing more to say about this. Even those gamers who claim they don't like it can't help getting sucked in when they think they see the answer to the clue.

Condottiere:I also have nothing more to say about this. If you don't own it, buy it.

Le Havre: The original game from which Harbour was developed as a slimline version. I think I prefer the latter, but only with our house rule scoring system.

Ice Flow:  I really like this game and whenever others are foolish enough to delegate the choice to me this is what they end up with. It's much deeper than it appears to be as the rules are being explained.

Junk Art: A sort of reverse Jenga, but with the components providing a range of different dexterity games, all well beyond your bloggist's capabilities. Good fun.

The King is Dead: I've now tried it with two players and it worked rather well. I am enjoying this, with no element of post-purchase dissonance having appeared yet.

Libertalia: Only the second time that I've played this pirate themed game, but I enjoyed it more than I remember doing the first time. We played with a full complement of six, which may have had something to do with it by increasing the opportunities for second guessing what everyone else will do.


Lords of Waterdeep: A really enjoyable worker placement game that, as I know I have mentioned before, can be played without ever giving any thought to the D&D type theme.

Neue Heimat: A couple of those with whom I played this hated it with a vengeance, which put a bit of a downer on the whole thing. Personally I wouldn't mind giving it another go now I've got my head round the possible strategies. The auction mechanism requires putting in at least some effort to anticipate other people's moves.

QuartermasterGeneral: 1914: Any game of QG is a rare treat. I think I prefer this to the original, but sadly don't play either enough to be absolutely sure.

Red7: A reliable filler.

Skull: Ditto, although I for one am a bit jaded with this at the moment.

Space Alert: A cooperative sci-fi programming game that did nothing to warm me to any of those genres. It made me want to have games of Grizzled and/or Colt Express instead.

Splendor: I like this enough to be seriously thinking of buying the expansion. It's an engaging, easily taught, game that makes you think without lasting too long.

Spyfall: It hasn't been on the table for many months and hasn't improved in the meantime. It does seem to have spawned a number of in jokes, so there is some upside.

Survive: Escape from Atlantis!: A most enjoyable 'take that' game which has to be played in a cutthroat manner. On this occasion I thought it was a piece of cake until my boats were all sunk by whales and my men were all eaten by sharks; c'est la vie.


Thebes: The part of the game in which one moves around Europe collecting archaeological expertise and equipment works very well. The bit where one excavates for treasure, and during which one scores, involve far too much luck. It is also possible to quite early on fall behind to such an extent that the remainder of the game becomes pointless. I do like the way the time track works though.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Burn the village


As previously mentioned the twin drivers for the latest game to be set up in the annexe were the receipt of a To the Strongest! Quick Play Sheet from Don and finishing off the three chariots that had been languishing for months.


I was looking for something different to the usual line up the Romans up on one side and the Ancient Britons on the other and after a bit of casting around for inspiration (eventually found here) have set up a punitive raid scenario:



The conceit is that a small Roman detachment has been sent to burn the village. There are only two small units of skirmishers on table to defend it at at the moment; in game terms they positioned to prevent the attackers' lead command from using march moves. The rest of the Celts, having been caught unawares, will arrive in due course. Two warbands will emerge from the village via the gate, one after the other. Two further units will emerge from the wood and the chariots - having been elsewhere for some unspecified reason - will enter from the end of the table nearest the camera.

Which ones are crap? They all are!

We are playing with the very latest iteration of the rules and my advice would be to remember the following rules in particular:
  • March moves: make you get there quicker; can be thwarted by appropriate use of skirmishers.
  • Group moves: help keep units in command.
  • Light troops: don't actually need to be in command and don't cause morale tests when they break.
  • Melee from the flank: two chances to hit and no response from unit being attacked.
  • Firing from the flank: reduced saving throw.
To burn the village a unit of Roman auxilliary infantry must:
  • Be in a square orthogonally adjacent to the village
  • Not be in a warband zone of control
  • Defeat the occupants of the village (who count as a mob and may not leave the village) in melee. 
  • In the same turn start the fire by passing a simple activation.
If (when) the mob is defeated in melee they are not removed and nor do the Romans enter the village. If the attempt to set fire to the village fails then the occupants are deemed to have regrouped and must be defeated in melee again before another attempt is made.


I am hoping for a game of manoeuvre. We shall see.


Monday, 25 September 2017

The Model Makers

I have not been doing and modelling or painting recently and it's been a while since the blog touched on the visual arts. Let's bring both those missing themes together with this by Norman Blamey:


Is he using cornflake packets?

Thursday, 21 September 2017

I could do without my warhorse; I could drag about in a skirt;

I've just come across this in a bookshop:


I have no doubt that posts are already being written on many wargaming blogs condemning its publication. It's a good job that no woman has ever combined both outrages - that of wearing men's clothing and that of going to war - at the same time.


"I was admonished to adopt feminine clothes; I refused and still refuse."

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Theft

"The robb'd that smiles, steals something from the thief." - William Shakespeare, Othello


And so to the theatre. The previous post mentioned the sitcom about Selwyn Froggitt. At exactly the same time that was being made in YTV's Kirkstall Road studios they were also making the far superior 'Rising Damp'. It is fitting therefore that I have just been to see a play by Eric Chappell, the man who put the words into the mouth of Rigsby, and who was obliged to write a lot more of them because Leonard Rossiter spoke so quickly.

'Theft' is described as a comedy thriller, but turns out not to involve any thrills at all. However, it provides sufficient laughs and so we'll let that pass. One doesn't have to be a devotee of Priestley to see that Chappell had 'An Inspector Calls' in his mind when he wrote it, with an outsider who may not be what he seems to be disturbing a superficially comfortable bourgeois status quo. The writer is mostly known for his dialogue, but here he also provides the main character with a most amusing entrance. I saw Northern Broadsides use a similar coup de theatre in their production of Dario Fo's 'Accidental Death of an Anarchist' a few years ago and once again it was most effective here.

And since we're on the subject of theft:

“And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes - believes with all its heart - that it is their right to take the land. To kill Indians. Make war. Enslave their brothers. This nation shouldn't exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty.” - Colson Whitehead

Monday, 18 September 2017

Oh No, It's Selwyn Froggitt!

It has been drawn to my attention that the performer whose act at Batley Varieties was interrupted in 1969 by the late arrival of the pies was in fact Bill Maynard rather than Stan Boardman. I feel it is important to make this correction because whereas Boardman is best known for making racist jokes about Germans, Maynard was a film actor of some distinction, featuring in movies of the calibre of 'Carry on at Your Convenience'.  Among other Carry On films in which Maynard appeared was 'Carry on Henry VIII' which I mentioned here, and in which Maynard played a somewhat out of time Guy Fawkes. Maynard, who believe it or not was in contention to sing the UK's entry in the inaugural Eurovision Song Contest in 1957, stood as an independent Labour candidate against Tony Benn in the Chesterfield by election of 1984, in my view a bigger black mark against him even than his appearing in 'Confessions of a Window Cleaner' (although obviously there is a political connection there as well, in that the actor playing his son-in-law in that film later had a real life son-in-law who became prime minister). I mentioned a while ago that 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' was partly shot in my home town. Less impressively, so were the Confessions films.

Speaking of films, I find that I have seen some and not bothered to write about them yet:
  • Logan Lucky: I went thinking it was about motor racing, in the opening five minutes it seems as if it's going to be a searing indictment of the lack of universal health provision in the US and then it turns into an amusing enough caper movie, with a good joke about Game of Thrones which is understandable even to those like me who have never seen the show. Overall it's probably most notable for Daniel Craig's accent.
  • The Big Sick: A fairly average romantic comedy which is nevertheless better than its name suggests. The unanswered question is why there is apparently only one comedy club in the whole of Chicago.
  • Wind River: It's a cowboy film pretending to be a present day murder mystery. It passes the time nicely; just don't think too hard about the plot or the unresolved loose ends.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Taking things as they come

"The lot assigned to every man is suited to him, and suits him to itself." - Marcus Aurelius

And so to the theatre. I have been to see 'Eden End', a relatively rarely performed play by one of this blog's heroes J.B. Priestley. I rather unexpectedly found myself sitting next to Tom Priestley, the great man's son. Whilst we didn't exchange more than pleasantries it certainly caused me to think that I'd got top value for my ticket money, and I commend the idea to theatres everywhere. I'm seeing some Ibsen soon and I trust that the West Yorkshire Playhouse are already scouring Norway for a descendant of the playwright so as to add that little bit extra to my visit. In the event family influence on my enjoyment of 'Eden End' didn't stop there, because after the show, over coffee and cake, Nicolas Hawkes, Priestley's stepson asked me what I had made of the play, politely listened to my interpretation and then equally courteously told me that I had got it completely wrong. That didn't bother me in itself - no one is more aware than me of the shallowness of the intellectual foundations on which this blog is built - but there is one element that does cause some lingering embarrassment. His take on it, the official view if you will, is that the moral of the play is that one must take things as they come. Given that your bloggist's major affectation is to hide behind the name of an eminent Stoic philosopher you might be forgiven for supposing that I ought to have worked that out for myself.




Going back to Ibsen, Stella Kirby was played here by the same actress who played Nora Helmer in the production of 'A Doll's House' that I saw a few months ago. This production takes Priestley's play and gives it an additional prologue and epilogue in the form of music hall routines featuring her, the purpose of which is to allude to her character's backstory, to reference other works by the author such as 'The Good Companions' and to presage the Great War which shortly followed the play's 1912 setting (1). In the finale she sings and dances while wearing male military uniform, a costume choice which I know some blog readers find titillating, but which others have recently indicated that they see as an abomination of such horror that violence is the only appropriate response. You pays your money and you takes your choice.


(1) In case you think I'm being foolhardy in venturing my own opinions despite having earlier been shot down by someone who knew what they were talking about, be reassured that I got all that from the director, to whom I also spoke at the post show reception.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Same Blues, Different Decade

"Do I want the Seventies to come back? No. The haircuts were terrible. Everyone stank. The food was awful." - Douglas Coupland

To which he could have added the clothes of course. But what about the music? I ask the question because I have been to see the Maas and Moody Band, who seem to share my views on the subject. Micky Moody (MM senior that is - MM junior is the drummer in the band and indeed in the clips below) was in Whitesnake and, before that, Juicy Lucy and so he was there. But while he might be a near contemporary of mine, Ali Maas is clearly somewhat younger; nevertheless her vocals fit right in. So, if you like female fronted, riff-driven, guitar-solo heavy, British blues rock of the sort that one might have seen at St Albans Civic Centre most Saturday nights forty years ago - and let's face it who doesn't - then look no further.


I'm not sure about the stand up bass though - I'm glad to say that had disappeared by the time that I saw them. Moody also told an amusing anecdote about playing at Batley Variety Club as part of Gene Pitney's band which involved Stan Boardman and some meat pies; you don't get that from Eric Clapton.



They finished with a cover of Dylan's 'Gotta Serve Somebody', and so shall we. This is by the marvellous Etta James:



Friday, 15 September 2017

Crap chariots redux

I confidently predicted last week that we would be playing Italian Wars in the legendary wargames room until the show at Derby. It will therefore be no surprise to anyone familiar with my forecasting track record that we shall be in the wargaming annexe at the Casa Epictetus for a game next week. I have rather fallen out of love with the Great War, or at least with Through the Mud and the Blood, so have had to cast around for something else to do. The timely receipt from my erstwhile bandmate Don of some much improved Quick Play Sheets for To the Strongest! which he has prepared tipped things in that direction, with the added benefit of giving me an incentive to finish off the chariots which have been languishing half painted in the cupboard under the boiler for far too long.

Apparently he fell off when he did this while in motion

That reminds me of a recent post on the Palouse Wargaming Journal blog which not only featured some very nicely painted Assyrians, but also posed the question as to which looked the best: more chariots or more chariot units? I have no hesitation in plumping for the former, but then 20mm plastic are somewhat cheaper than 28mm metal. So the scenario will feature, for the first time, five chariot units at two chariots per unit. At the moment that's the entire plan; possibly more thought is required.