Tuesday, 28 February 2017


Not that many boardgames were played in February, partly because of food poisoning and partly because whenever I did get a chance I seemed to end up playing a game that went on for ever. There was, as previously reported, one excellent experience.

6 Nimmt!: The gamer's choice if one has to play a mainly random game.

Airlines Europe: A sort of precursor to Ticket to Ride which I would suggest needs a couple of house rules to reduce the length somewhat. Thematically it's all over the place - the only time you ever get a dividend on your shares is when you declare that you own them and the most valuable airline for victory point purposes has neither aeroplanes nor routes - but it's not a bad game.

Battlestar Galactica: Not really my sort of game, I've never seen the show on which it's based and it went on way too long, but reasonably enjoyable despite all that.

Codenames: Does 'photosynthesis' suggest 'bark'? Indeed not.

Fabled Fruit: Pretty average set collection card game. Apparently the gimmick is that the game changes each time you play it in some sort of narrative style - I have no idea how - but I can't imagine anyone bothering to play it again.

Flamme Rouge: I got both my racers over the finish line; I'm going to count that as a moral victory.

Herbaceous: Another set collection card game game, this time about planting herbs, that worked really well, proving that theme doesn't really matter. It also proves that dressing up Rummy with proprietary cards is a good way to make money.

Quartermaster General 1914: Great game; loved it.

Raise your Goblets: Not the gamer's choice if one has to play a mainly random game.

Roll for the Galaxy: I'm always happy to play this. We were playing an expansion; I can't remember which one and it didn't seem to add much.

Russian Railroads: German Railroads: Crazy name, crazy game. It passes the time, but there are too many ways to score, so no one ever knows who's winning.

Skull: Reliable filler.

Splendor: Reliable slightly more than filler. I usually take this along and more often than not someone plays it at some point, which must prove something.

Monday, 27 February 2017


So, another month draws to a close, and once again many things have gone unreported in this blog. I went to Lincoln, although on reflection that was pretty dull. The big bouncy woman and I were this close to going out walking before storm Doris intervened (and apropos of nothing, the the name of that weather system has been bringing back uncomfortable memories of someone I used to go out with some decades ago). I also saw a performance of Return to the Forbidden Planet that I can best describe as troubling. The group involved seem to consist of middle aged men and much younger women. Normally this is a membership policy that would be right up Epictetus' street, but in this case it verged into the uncomfortable, not to say creepy. Miranda (the piece is very loosely based on The Tempest via the 1950s film) was played by a young girl not much older than the fifteen that Shakespeare ordained, and her love interest must have been at least twice her age; very wrong. The band were good though.

Wargaming has been covered mostly as we have gone along, but there was a small amount of painting: eight stands of longbowmen, four Celt casualty markers and half a dozen or so Great War Tommies. A number of 1914-18 field guns have arrived in the post so I hope to be more productive in March. I also returned some figures to Mark that he had originally passed on to me many years ago and with which I had done absolutely nothing in the meantime. It did mean however that he finally came to take a look at the wargaming annexe; I hope to fix up a game with him sometime soon.

A monkey with a beard

I am still ploughing through Trial by Battle, the first volume of Jonathan Sumption's massive history of the Hundred Years War. I am enjoying it, despite the long and somewhat dry lists of things like place names, people and so on. One such list that caught my eye this week is on page 404 and details the things that Edward III enjoyed himself by hunting in the forests of Brittany in November 1342: "deer, foxes, bears, monkeys and other beasts plentiful beyond measure". Now Sumption is clearly a very clever man and ordinarily I would not dare to cast aspersions regarding his scholarship, but monkeys? Monkeys? In the forests of northern France? Come on, your Lordship, get a grip.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Who are the real crooks?

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.” 
- Claude-Frédéric Bastiat

 I have been to a lecture on organised crime in the middle ages, given by Chris Murphy of the Towton Battlefield Society. In his day job he is a customs officer so one must assume that he knows whereof he speaks.

The talk mainly focussed on the fifteenth century, with an inevitable nod to Robin Hood. The speaker was at pains to point out that much of the aristocracy was engaged in such activities: Warwick the Kingmaker was a pirate, the fortune of the de la Pole family was based on smuggling and so on. He also, through detailed analysis of the careers of the Lancastrian Sir Thomas Tuddenham and the Yorkist Sir Henry Bodugan, made clear how those in power were willing to turn a blind eye to apalling criminal behaviour in return for political and military support.

His final conclusion indeed was that the real organised criminals were the kings, which certainly fits with my worldview. As Shelley put it "monarchy is only the string that ties the robbers bundle". Given that four out of the six monarchs during the 1400s were usurpers in form or another perhaps the most apposite quote is from Schiller: "It is criminal to steal a purse, daring to steal a fortune, a mark of greatness to steal a crown. The blame diminishes as the guilt increases.".

Saturday, 25 February 2017

I am excessively diverted

And so to the theatre. I have been to see LipService Theatre's 'Mr Darcy Loses the Plot', which starts, exactly as one would imagine, as a spoof on Pride and Prejudice , and then spirals off imaginatively. The Cinderella story is reflected throughout Austen's work - Mansfield Park being the most direct version - but even I can't pretend that there is any real link to my previous post. Instead this piece explores the idea that women writers, unlike men, were historically not given the luxury of being able to write full time, but had to also juggle domestic responsibility. So when Austen goes off to attend to her sister Cassandra, Darcy, becoming bored and somewhat unhappy that George Wickham seems to have taken over as romantic lead, wanders off to do his own thing. Surreally, but very amusingly, he turns up as Max de Winter, Daphne du Maurier having been similarly diverted by looking after her family (*). He finds that he prefers this new life, especially the opportunities it affords for outdoor swimming. In a a parallel adventure Wickham himself turns up as the fox in The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck, Beatrix Potter being busy looking after the sheep farm. It's a two woman show which I found to be very funny and very clever; nice programme too.

(*) In a desperate attempt to give this blog some much needed wargaming credibility can I point out that du Maurier's husband commanded I Airborne Corps during Operation Market Garden and that it was he who coined the phrase 'a bridge too far'; Dirk Bogarde played him in the film.

Thursday, 23 February 2017


And so to the opera. The third, and for me the best, of the season of fairy tales was Rossini's Cinderella. Whilst sharing the same source as Disney's version this is rather different in that there is no fairy godmother, no glass slipper, no talking animals, no magic at all in fact; the songs are better as well. The principle is the same though: hard done-by but kind and virtuous posh girl is restored to her 'rightful' place in society by vacuous but privileged pretty boy despite the machinations of those around her.

The production is well served by its leads  - including a Prince Charming with the rather excellent first name of Sonnyboy - although they are both perhaps outshone by Quirijn de Lang as Dandini. As mentioned before this run of productions all share a simple set and here it serves in the opening scenes as a dance school. This is an interesting, though one assumes coincidental, nod to the recent production of Strictly Ballroom at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, the main narrative arc of which is itself of course a version of the Cinderella story. Were I really keen to bang on about everything being connected if you look hard enough I would also point out that when Rossini met Salieri in the 1820s he is reputed to have teased him about his reputation as Mozart's poisoner.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Johnny and Maggie

And so to the opera. The next of Opera North's fairy tales is Engelbert Humperdinck's 'Hänsel und Gretel'. The age of austerity has reached even into the opera house and the whole season is sharing one functional set. What was a garment factory now becomes what most reviewers have described as a council house, thereby proving that they have been asleep since at least the time of Thatcher. Wherever it is, the children are left alone there with electronic gadgets, but no food. As in the Snow Maiden back projection plays a big part in the design, although perhaps scoring an own goal here; showing giant blow ups of their faces on a feed from a video camera rather undermines the conceit that the adult singers are children.

Susn Bullock doubled up in a sort of Freudian way as both witch and mother; think the way that George Darling and Captain Hook are always played by the same actor in a pantomime. It worked well enough, although she was more entertaining than frightening as she chased them round her gingerbread house.

It's another opera I'd never seen before - I think I was overseas last time Opera North did it - but it's lovely - and varied - music.

Enigma of the evening: why does the witch keep Fray Bentos pies in her fridge? Surely the main point (only point?) of a Fray Bentos pie is that one can store it at ambient temperature?

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Oh, What a Lovely War

Posting has been restricted for a few days, not just because of the two bob bits, but also because of intermittent problems with my broadband. I have finally tracked down the cause of the latter to sun shining on to the router; anyone who has ever lived in the north of England will forgive me for that not having been one of the first things that I thought of.

I have now had the chance to play the newish Great War version of Quartermaster General, and was very impressed. Indeed, I think I preferred it to the original, which is high praise. This game requires precisely five people as opposed to the previous need for exactly six, with players representing Russia, Germany, the Austro Hungarian/Ottoman Empires, France/Italy, and the UK/US. Players representing two participants have one deck of cards - although individual cards are only playable for one force - but separate armies and navies. It is the way these cards are used that makes the difference. Some are played directly from hand and some can be saved for playing later, but each can be used in one of three ways: to cause special events, for carrying out attrition (essentially reducing another player's capabilities, but at a cost to oneself) or for supplying reinforcements to a battle in progress. To succeed the last of these one must have prepared in advance better than one's opponent. The emphasis on planning before acting is what, to me, improves the game. On top of that, the fact that many cards are used other than to cause the special event on them - or simply discarded due to attrition - will surely mean that each game plays out very differently. Our game went the whole way, rare in the original, and resulted in a very narrow victory for the Central Powers notwithstanding the fact that we had run out of cards and could do nothing for the last two turns. Recommended, chaps, highly recommended.

In other WWI news, I have set up the scenery for the second of the Through the Mud and the Blood scenarios:

One minor problem with representing trenches in this way is that line of sight isn't as intuitive as it might be. The machine gun pit just visible in the centre of the rear trench actually commands the whole table. Subsequent to taking the photo I laid the forces out and discovered, inevitably, that I didn't have quite enough troops after all. Cue the longbowmen being muscled to one side on the painting table by half a dozen British bombers. I've also had to rush through a couple more Big Man bases.

And to wrap up action here regarding 1914-18, having read Square Bashing I think that they will do nicely as an alternative way of using the same figures at a different level of game. I have therefore ordered some field artillery plus a few sabot bases to check how the infantry will look.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

La pucelle

"Martyrs, my friend, have to choose between being forgotten, mocked or used. As for being understood - never."  - Albert Camus

And so to the theatre. Continuing (anticipating actually) the Hundred Years War theme of the previous post, I have been to see Shaw's Saint Joan in another of the National Theatre's live broadcasts, this time from the Donmar. I am pleased to report that on this occasion the Nobel Laureate has been well served by director and actors.  Gemma Arterton is superb as the Maid, and the rest of the cast were excellent. Like the recent production of Pygmalion that I saw this is mostly in modern dress with a shortened script that retains the original language. For me this works well here and was unnecessary there. GBS himself wrote "It is difficult, if not impossible, for most people to think otherwise than in the fashion of their own period."; I would assert that one century ago is 'our period' in a way that six centuries ago is not.

The set is a boardroom, although thankfully not one of the many such that I have sat in has ever revolved; a design decision I found less grating than for, example, much of the action in Pygmalion taking part in a fish tank. For me the parallels between then and now - not least those with power conspiring with each other against everyone else - work better because the nobility are dressed like, as well as acting like, bankers of the last thirty years. John de Stogumber's outraged rhetorical question "How can what an Englishman believes be heresy? It is a contradiction in terms." is all the more recognisably relevant if he looks as if he's in UKIP, as is the response from the more cultured and educated Frenchman to whom he is speaking that Stogumber will be forgiven on the basis that the 'thick air' of England breeds 'invincible ignorance'. The chosen setting also made one inevitably think of 'Yes, Minister': self-interest, hypocrisy and circumlocution in beautifully crafted dialogue.

Enigma of the evening: who did steal the bishop's horse?

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;

Thanks to all those who have wished me well. I am slowly recovering, although I am still rather fragile. But, let's face it, given the nature of my current affliction it would not really be appropriate to dwell on it for the purposes of a blog post; most distasteful. So - swiftly moving on - why don't I take the opportunity to show you a wargames figure from my collection?

Regular readers will know of my interests both in sieges and in the fifteenth century. Let's kill two birds with one stone and have a look at one of the English besiegers of Harfleur in 1415. This chap having obviously been affected by the outbreak of dysentery which has swept through the camp, claiming many lives, is urgently manoeuvring his clothing as he hurries to the place of easement.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Deuteronomy Chapter 28 Verse 61

"It's only a flesh wound"

You may recall me writing here back in September last year a lighthearted post about losing my voice. You may further recall that this was followed within days by my ending up in A&E on oxygen. Moving forwards, to last week in fact, we find me attempting a humorous response to the news that I'd eaten a product being recalled by a supermarket because of possible contamination during the production process. Well, and it may be that you are ahead of me here, since posting that I have been taken ill and am currently undergoing various tests for salmonella infection. Egosyntonia is the word you are looking for.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017


Not just a clever and completely planned link back to yesterday's post, but also a reference to the death a couple of weeks ago of Deke Leonard, of which I have only just become aware. You already know that your bloggist likes a bit of 1970s progressive, bluesy music, so turn your speakers to eleven and rock on.

"I like to eat bananas, cos they got no bones...". They really do not write lyrics like that any more.

"Night has a way of getting colder."

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Monday, 13 February 2017


I had a strange dream last night. Not on this occasion the one about the harem and the raincoat, but instead one wherein a visitor arrives unexpectedly at my house both to service my 5¼" floppy disk drive (a) and to sing jazz standards in the style of George Melly. This song might not qualify as a standard, but the words ring true nevertheless:

(a) not a euphemism

Friday, 10 February 2017


I've just had a rather disconcerting, but not terribly timely, email from Sainsbury's warning me about the possible presence of salmonella in something which I bought four days ago and ate the following day. I think it's fair to say that I would rather forgo all the bonus nectar points in the world in return for untainted food. However, if this is indeed to be the end of Epictetus then I had better bring things up to date; your grief will only be heightened for not knowing that not only have I been to see the very excellent Dr Bob and the Bluesmakers once again, but that I also won £25 on the Premium Bonds. That should take the edge off a painful death by food poisoning.

Speaking of poisoning, I also saw the latest live broadcast from the National Theatre: Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, a play that takes a Shakespearean approach to the relative importance of historical verisimilitude on the one hand and the dramatic narrative on the other. I've always liked the ironic way in which Shaffer underlined the lesser esteem afforded by posterity to Salieri - and what a performance by Luciani Msamati - compared to Mozart by naming a play in which the former is the main character after the latter. This production  was moving and engaging in a way that the other plays I saw last week most certainly weren't.

I've also been to the seaside, St Annes-on-Sea in fact, improvidently choosing one of the coldest days of the winter for the purpose. I had fish and chips for lunch in the pier café - full name: Cafe on the Pier - at a table overlooking the beach; a cliché I know, but, as I pointed out to the Tofu Lady, one sometimes one just has to let oneself be swept along by the moment. Nearby was this statue, which I photographed with the camera kept in my manbag for just such an opportunity.

There is no point in having a competition because a quick web-search would identify it for you, but I wonder if many people will immediately recognise who it's supposed to be. The first words that I ever heard my ex-wife say - on our first day at business school - were to explain that although she shared this chap's name she definitely wasn't him (a); and yet I still married her. And on the subject of wives, on our visit to Vapnartak James came up with the hypothesis that the second wives of wargamers are far more sympathetic to their husbands' hobby than first wives. Much of the evidence seems to point in precisely the opposite direction, but I have no current intention of putting it to the test.

As the subject of wargaming has been raised I should report that we had another crack at Blitzkrieg Commander II. We had a better grasp of the rules this time and Peter at least seemed to have worked out how to use them to properly coordinate his attacks. They are certainly quicker than Piquet for handling large numbers of units. I'm not an expert on second world war gaming, but then nor am I that big a fan. The problem seems to be that, in the minds of the rule designers at least, the Germans had by far the best equipment; the implication presumably being that tactical superiority was undermined by strategic over-stretch. That may well be true, but it doesn't always make for a particularly satisfying game on the table.

Anyway, that's as may be; I more pressing matters on my mind, namely imminent diarrhoea, fever and abdominal cramps followed by death. Vale!

(a) This was shortly followed by another student asking if despite his surname being Ogden we would refrain from calling him Hilda. Naturally he has been known as nothing else for the last twenty five years.

Monday, 6 February 2017

You made me

And so to the theatre. By coincidence two of the plays that I have seen in the last week seem to be loosely linked in theme, being concerned with the responsibility of creator for creation. As creations in their own right neither were that good, but Frankenstein was better than Pygmalion, the latter being fairly dreadful if truth be told. Victor Frankenstein also came across as a more sympathetic character than Henry Higgins; and, considering that we first meet the scientist as he pursues his creation to the ends of the earth with the intention of destroying it, that reflects rather poorly on the Edwardian phoneticist.

I've never read Frankenstein - my taste doesn't really run to the Gothic - and although I suppose I must have seen dramatisations based on the original novel at some point I was still surprised at just how ridiculous the story is; indeed it makes no sense at all. The creature was manifested by a Bunraku style puppet,a device which worked extremely well. The five young actors switched duties as puppeteers and musicians seamlessly and effectively. In fact the acting itself was the weakest link. Victor, for example, comes across like a teenager who has had a disappointing experience on his gap year instead of someone who has played at God and come to grief.

But at least it was entertaining, whereas Pygmalion was a complete mess, full of gimmicks which didn't work. Virtually all of the original West Yorkshire Playhouse productions that I have seen recently have been really poor and this is no exception. I went back for the second act - many didn't - so I suppose it must have been better than Villette, although not by much. Shaw's play is social commentary on inequality of power between classes and sexes, something just as relevant as when he wrote it. A modern dress version could without doubt be made to work, but this farrago lost everything and gained nothing. The only parts that did work were Alfred Doolittle's two extended speeches about the undeserving poor and about middle class morality, and that's perhaps because they were played almost straight. I came away thinking that if they didn't have any faith in the play as written then they should have just put on My Fair Lady and had done with it. Mind you, I had spent most of the performance fervently wishing that they would burst into song.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Blitzkrieg bashing

I have enhanced further my growing reputation as the grumpy old man of wargaming. We had a crack at Blitzkrieg Commander II last week and when my tactics didn't work I may possibly have complained a bit. My irritation drove me to re-read the rules, searching for confirmation that I had been wronged by our errant interpretation thereof. Instead I found that what I had done was not just ineffective, but was actually specifically forbidden. As anyone who remembers our (many) refights of Sidi Rezegh can testify I have never pretended to be an expert on the Second World War. Anyway, expect James' blog to contain much ranting about artillery drift, about which he is prone to carry on like a drunk in a pub looking for a fight. Speaking of which, whilst we were en route to Vapnartak he regaled Peter and I with amusing and colourful stories of his life as a young man in the Channel Islands.

The organisers of the show have apparently made the decision to switch from demo games to participation games, the net effect of which was that there wasn't a great deal to look at. I'm rather partial to having a go at participation games, but there wasn't time as it was a flying visit; Peter being keen to return in order to muck out his horse. There was some meeting and greeting of those others who had made the journey from Ilkley - epicentre of wargaming in the lower Wharfe Valley - across to York, and I was somewhat impressed to be introduced to the author Angus Konstam; certainly more impressed than he was to be introduced to me. As it happens I have been reading his new book on The Barbary Pirates, and very interesting it is too. I have some half baked ideas for games based on their raids on southern England using my small fleet of Zvezda medieval life boats; none of which have seen the light of day so far. But then again I have all sorts of projects in hand, and my shopping reflected that. I picked up some pre-ordered trench sections for the next trench raid scenario, some MDF bases (admittedly with multiple possible applications), some ladders from Irregular (for the Siege of Constaninople, a game that you will remember I couldn't make work and actually packed away) and a copy of Square Bashing (with the intention of using my existing stuff to game at a different scale). Add in the wish to test the new C&C Napoleonics rules and rewrite the Romans in Britain rules and it's a bit of a long list. You won't surprised therefore to hear that I continue to paint 15th century English longbowmen, which address no item appearing on it.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Tone deaf, paranoid and unable to read music

This blog is in one of those 'normal service will be resumed as soon as possible' hiatuses that overcomes even the best, let alone me. In the meantime, and apologies for being a day late, here's something to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Joe Meek.

Another staple of the jukebox in the Shearbridge.