Monday, 30 July 2018

Lightweight filler

'Lightweight filler' is of course an accurate description of most of what is written here, but today I mean it in a literal sense. For modelling and painting have returned to the Casa Epictetus after a long absence. The initial impetus came from me needing to use my hot glue gun to repair something, and having put the protective cover on the table it seemed a waste not to press on.

It had occurred to me when I was setting up the Malesov game - still not played - that I could do with some 'lance' markers (see p57 of Version 1.1a of To the Strongest! plus p4 of Ever Stronger V6 for full details of why) and obviously it wouldn't take long to bash some out. And it wouldn't have, had not my plastic primer and tub of filler both dried out and become unusable during the handicraft hiatus, requiring a trip out in the pouring rain to get some more. While staring at the shelves I was seduced by the tubs of exciting new lightweight filler and decided to give it a try. One cannot fault the description - it must be easily an order of magnitude less dense than the regular stuff - but I found it very difficult to work with. To get it to 'flow' (clearly not the right word, but anyone who has based figures will know what I'm getting at) I had to keep a very wet tool at all times.

However, the extra water meant was that it took an absolute age to dry, whereas one can usually crack on with painting the regular stuff quite quickly. On reflection I'm not sure what particular benefit less weight is to me. Indeed stands of plastic figures are actually made more robust by a bit of heft down below.

While I'm on the subject of tools I have acquired a rather nifty engineer's chest to hold mine and, rather more importantly, to occupy one of the fireplaces in my living room; that's right, I have more than one fireplace in my living room.

It seems to me to need something to stand on one side of it to break up the symmetry. One of my lady friends suggested a lava lamp, apparently in all seriousness. Well, you know they say about lava lamps: "fun to look at, but not very bright".

Saturday, 28 July 2018


The recent recalling to mind of someone I knew long ago and the subsequent discovery of the whole story behind his ditching in the North Sea at the end of the war made me realise that I knew very little of the work of RAF Coastal Command during that time. I therefore been reading with interest 'The Strike Wings' by Roy Conyers Nesbit about the special anti-shipping squadrons, among whom was 144 Squadron, in which the then Warrant Officer Boorer served as a navigator.

It is, as one would expect, absolutely fascinating stuff, at all levels: the individual stories of brave young men; the technical details about the Beaufighter and its weaponry; the development of tactics in the light of experience; and the higher level strategic questions of why the denial of high-grade Swedish iron ore (*) and Malayan Rubber to the Nazis was so critical. The write ups of raids are made with reference to German war diaries as well as first hand accounts from members of the RAF, RCAF, RAAF and RNZAF and are very even handed. There are clear maps of some attacks, an appendix listing all the actions and an extensive bibliography; it's good stuff.

The one area I felt I would like sightly more clarity on is the internal layout of the aircraft, so I thought I would hunt down a second-hand copy of the relevant Osprey. Astonishingly I find that Osprey don't publish a volume on the Beaufighter; my faith in the world is shaken even more than it already was. I shall continue my search, and would appreciate book suggestions. In particular I am keen to understand where exactly they put the carrier pigeon.

I'm not sure about the game potential of all this; there don't seem to be too many decision points for either side and I suspect it would all just come down to the luck of the dice/cards/whatever. Tumbling Dice do make fairly cheap packs of 1/600 Beaufighters though.

I think that I mentioned in an earlier post that I had on a whim bought a limited edition print of a painting signed by Flying Officer Brett, the pilot who was shot down with Mr Boorer. The idea was that I had always intended to decorate the annexe with military themed paintings, photos etc (despite not yet actually having done anything about it) and because of the tenuous connection, and the reasonable price on eBay, this seemed a good place to start. Well, it's turned up (**) and looks very good. It also looks very large. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the dimensions, which were clearly listed. So, it isn't going in the annexe, because it's too big, and it's going to cost an arm and a leg to frame, thereby rather undermining the concept of getting a good deal. Result.

(*) It's fair to say that the Swedes don't come out of this episode with any credit.
(**) For the record, Mr Brett signs himself Philip

Sunday, 22 July 2018

More on 144 Squadron

Coastal Command Strike Wings by Air Chief Marshall Sir Neil Wheeler

It was not until ten years ago that the first detailed account appeared recording the achievements and sacrifices of the Beaufighter anti-shipping Strike Wings. Surprisingly, these important and, as a whole, very successful activities seemed to have been forgotten in the years immediately after the war. Until 1942 the attack of enemy shipping, particularly that to and from Dutch ports and North German and Scandinavian ports, had been carried out in the main by individual attacks by bomber aircraft, at times with considerable losses. The concept of using a Wing of Beaufighters, with two squadrons to suppress enemy anti-aircraft fire and one with torpedoes to sink the ships in the convoy, gradually developed in 1942. Unfortunately, the first strike on 20th November 1942 was disastrous, largely through failure to rendezvous with the fighter escort, the casualties were heavy and the results poor. The Wing was not to operate again until 18th April 1943, and only after a thorough revision of tactics and much training. That strike, which I led, was an unqualified success ans Strike Wings were, so to speak, born. They continued with great success until the end of the war. Initially, the casualties that were suffered were extremely high, particularly in 1943 before the Allies achieved overwhelming air supremacy. But they continued to be high because most were due to the concentrated anti-aircraft fire from the ships in the convoys. I understand that the casualties were about the same as Bomber Command. However, the Strike Wings, as a considerably smaller force in comparison, inflicted far greater losses on the enemy relative to their own.

'Strike Wing Attack' - Frank Wootton

Account of the operation on 21st July 1944 - Philip Brett:

'This was my second operational flight. On my first I had had a three foot hole blown in my tailplane, teaching me that shipping strikes were indeed dangerous. This time I was carrying my first live torpedo and I realised I now had to do in anger what I had done a hundred times in enjoyable practice runs. I was expected to fly at a height of 150 feet and a speed of 180 knots, keeping straight and level until I was within about half a mile of an enemy ship, with cameras recording what I was actually doing when I made my drop. To add to my nervousness we were told that the convoy consisted of nine merchantmen guarded by no less than 31 escort vessels. Fear was forgotten in the concentration needed to fly very low across the North Sea in close squadron formation but it reasserted itself sharply enough immediately the ships appeared. The convoy was as big as promised. The anti-flak squadrons, 455 (Australian) 489 (New Zealand) and 404 (Canadian) began their climb. Our leader, Squadron Leader Robin Burwell, held 144 back, aiming to brings us in to the ships just as the anti-flak aircraft completed their work. On his order - Attack, Attack - we spread out as briefed, choosing individually the biggest targets we could find and setting our travelling light torpedo sights accordingly. The other squadrons had caused havoc. There was smoke everywhere on the sea and in the sky. Explosions were occurring along the whole length of the convoy. I came in like a good new boy, doing just what I had been told. I was aware of a sort of sparkling curtain between me and my target and the pretty tracer curving gracefully towards us, but I was concerned only with speed and height and the need to wait until the ship grew large. My torpedo gone, I could at last ram open the throttles and take violent evasive action as I climbed through the flak from my target and the surrounding escort vessels into the safer sky beyond. As we circled the scene of the attack there were still bursts of heavy flak everywhere above the convoy. Some of the aircraft seemed to be having a second go. Many of the ships below were enveloped in smoke and steam and several were blazing - Bill Boorer, my navigator, thought our merchantman was one of them. We set course for our base, Strubby, in Lincolnshire, and landed in the dark, unscathed. At debriefing everyone told of the severe damage that had been inflicted but no-one could be really sure of who had done what. The next day I heard that, from my aircraft cameras and all the other evidence, my torpedo had been assessed as a hit.'

I don't know why Brett is known as Philip here, but as Peter in Bill Boorer's report of their being shot down the following year. I have purchased a print of the painting above signed by - among others - Flying Officer P. Brett; I shall confirm which name he uses when I get it. I think it will look rather nice in the annexe. The elder Miss Epictetus has been dispatched to the ex-marital home to find a photo of your bloggist and Mr Boorer; a photo that incidentally also includes someone else whose picture has previously graced this blog. So far all she has turned up is a picture of me in front of a palm tree at RAF Luqa, which I must admit is fairly nostalgic in its own right.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

I Ain't Talking Instead Of

I have been to see the marvellous Doug MacLeod, a blues singer/songwriter/entertainer in the old country blues tradition that goes way back to Robert Johnson etc. He said that his mentor was George 'Harmonica' Smith, a man of whom until that moment I had never heard; yet another field in which I stand revealed as a know nothing amateur. What Macleod says in between songs is most amusing and a major part of the show. His songs cover a wide range of topics, but are always rooted in the blues as about overcoming troubles, not succumbing to them.

Here's one that's about the sort of troubles your bloggist is hoping to overcome someday, but not just yet - 'The Addition to Blues':

Friday, 20 July 2018

W.G. "Bill" Boorer, 144 squadron

I mentioned earlier in the year that I had hurt my toe, which precluded walking in the Dales. I had been slowly building up the distance I was walking locally and yesterday decided the time was right to go for a longer - in this case ten miles - hike. I walk with a number of different groups, but on this occasion went with the local branch of the Ramblers Association who, inevitably given the fact that they walk on weekdays, are all retired. They are all somewhat older than me, and incidentally are an excellent advert for the benefits of regular walking. Anyway, I was strolling along in the sun - which continues to beat down here - minding my own business when I overheard a name that I thought I recognised. I asked the lady concerned if she had said 'Bill Boorer', and confirming that she had, she told me that he had been her godfather, following which a brief discussion made it clear that this was the same chap that I had known in London some fifty years ago.

I hadn't thought about him in a long, long time and didn't know him well, but he had a wartime experience in which readers may be interested. The following is taken, with no permission whatsoever, from 'A Drop in the Ocean' by Jim Burtt-Smith and John French. The whole book is full of stories like this and is fairly readily available second-hand. These are Bill Boorer's own words:

'After briefing on Thursday, 3 May, 1945 the Dallachy wing of "Torbeau" anti-shipping strike aircraft flew off from Dallachy for a major strike against a large fleet of enemy shipping which was assembling in Kiel Bay. Intelligence had suggested that the Germans were intending to escape to Norway and continue the war from there.

Peter Brett and I were one of the crews on the wing with the longest experience and we were therefore appointed as the "outrider" - the aircraft which would fly ahead of the main strike force, select the best targets and direct the strike force on to those targets.

We flew on ahead on a "flak free" route across Denmark selected by the 2nd Tactical Air Force, and made our landfall at Ringkobing. We were hedge-hopping a full throttle towards the "Little Belt" when we suddenly found ourselves engulfed in flak. We had flown between two batteries of 88 mm anti-aircraft guns.

Our port engine burst into flame immediately, but our speed and low altitude carried us quickly out of the danger area. Peter turned back for home with the intention of flying back on the starboard engine only. It was not to be. A short while after crossing the coast the remaining engine failed and we had to ditch in the North Sea.

At the time of ditching the sea was very calm and we had no problems - or so we thought. The dinghy emerged from the port wing and, as a non-swimmer, I jumped into it as it drifted back. Alas, I found it to be as flat as a pancake, having been peppered with holes from the flak which had shot out the port engine during the attack. Pete swam up, the Beaufighter gave a gurgle and disappeared beneath the waves, and we inflated our Mae Wests. We spent what seemed to be hours finding the various holes and sealing them with the adhesive repair patches. Finally we had to inflate the dinghy with the hand pump and clamber aboard, which was not quite as easy as it sounds. Suddenly we remembered the airtight container carrying the emergency rations, which was attached to the dinghy by a tie-line. we saw it floating a short distance away. As we pulled on the line, however, the container disappeared beneath the waves. Consequently we had no food or water throughout our ditching.

During the night the weather deteriorated, but on the morning of the second day, 4 May, we were in reasonably good spirits and had every hope of being picked up. For our particular operation Air Sea Rescue Warwick aircraft had been on patrol along the western coast of Denmark and I had managed to send an SOS on my radio set. I learned later, however, that, although my message was actually received, the signal was so weak because of the very low power generated by our one remaining - and failing - engine that the message had been indecipherable. Moreover we were drifting southwards quite rapidly. In fact when we were finally rescued we were some 50 miles south of our original ditching position.

During the second day we heard and caught glimpse of two aircraft and fired off some of our two-star red cartridge signals. But there was no response. In spite of a heavy sea that night, we were still relatively comfortable.

On Saturday, 5 May, the heavy sea continued throughout the day. In the evening the weather worsened into a heavy storm, with waves up to sixty feet high. Sometimes we were at the bottom of these huge waves and sometimes at the top, like a seaside roller-coaster. During the course of the evening we saw a Liberator some distance away. We fired off our last two-star red which they obviously saw, as they turned and flew right above us and a member of the crew waved to us from the rear door. Unfortunately, the sea was so rough that they lost sight of us almost immediately after, and although we watched them as they continued to circle and search, they gradually moved further and further away. And, of course, we had no more two-star reds! During that night we shipped gallons of water. Several of the adhesive repair patches became non-effective and had to be replaced with conical rubber plugs.

The weather eased slightly during the course of Sunday, but became extremely rough once again that night. We both began to feel the torture of thirst and had to resort to moistening our lips with our own urine - not a very encouraging experience. As the holes in the dinghy grew larger, the conical plugs had to be pushed further in and eventually had to be replaced with larger sizes. During the day I felt the need to sustain my spirits with a little hymn singing, but I had the feeling that Peter did not really appreciate my efforts.

By this time, too, my underpants, which were Canadian cotton issue, had shrunk considerably and I was extremely uncomfortable in a very sensitive area. Finally I cast modesty aside and left a certain part of my physical equipment hanging free. Peter described it as looking like the head of a very ancient and wizened tortoise.

By Monday morning the the sea had moderated considerably and by nightfall the wind had dropped. For the first time since our ditching the previous Thursday it was quite calm. Early in the morning we had fixed a piece of chewing gum to a line and thrown it into the sea in the hope of catching a fish. During the afternoon the dinghy gave a heavy lurch, the fishing line went taut and, sure enough, there was a cod on the hook. Despite our best endeavours to get it aboard, however, it eventually broke free and disappeared. In retrospect, I am not sure what we would have done with it had we actually landed it in the dinghy.

We had entered our fifth day aboard the dinghy feeling pretty weak and we again resorted to urine to stave off the demoralising effects of thirst. There was a growing apprehension about our future, particularly as the rubber plugs had now progressed to the largest size available and were now inserted well into the holes in the rubber, so that there was little of the plugs remaining for further insertion. Our spirits reached a low ebb.

As night closed in once more, we became aware of a gradually increasing noise. Eventually a small ship loomed on the horizon. Peter and I discussed whether or not we should attempt to attract its attention, since we had heard reports that Germans were prone to shooting up any British dinghies that they came across. We finally decided that in view of our deteriorating condition we did not have much option, so we blew our whistles, shouted and waved our hands. The ship, which turned out to be the Ella, a fishing boat from Esbjerg, altered course and hove alongside the dinghy.

Someone leaned over and shouted, "British Tommy?" and on hearing our affirmative he then shouted "Germany kaput!" This was the first intimation we had had that Nazi Germany had at last thrown in the towel, in fact on midnight of the day we had ditched.

Once on board the fishing boat I became somewhat delirious and the skipper, Christian Peterson, turned back to Esbjerg.

We arrived in Esbjerg fishing harbour during the morning of Tuesday, 8 May, were offloaded and taken by ambulance to the Central Hospital, arriving at midday on VE Day. One inmate, a victim of Gestapo treatment, sent us in his radio and we listened to the celebrations from Piccadilly.'

Mr Boorer never spoke to me directly about his experiences and the above is pretty much all I know, except that he subsequently sent flowers to his rescuer and his wife every year on the anniversary of them being picked up and that he named his elder son Christian.

To end on a random note, Boorer's younger son played guitar in Morrissey's post-Smiths band. Before that he had been in the Polecats, who had a UK top forty hit with a cover of Bowie's "John, I'm Only Dancing". Astute readers will spot that phrase as having been used as the title of the blog posting on Wednesday, the day before I went on the walk and overheard the conversation which engendered the train of thought which led us to this point. Make of that what you will.

Thursday, 19 July 2018


"Some quotations," said Zellaby "are greatly improved by lack of context."

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

John, I'm only dancing

And so to the opera. I have been to see OperaUpClose's production of Eugene Onegin in a new English translation by Robin Norton-Hale which sets the action in the London of my youth. The ball at which the friends Lensky and Onegin fall out over a woman becomes, very plausibly, a teenage birthday party. In fact the more the action developed the more convinced I became that I'd been at the party it was based on. I didn't catch if anyone on stage actually sang "leave him, he's not worth it" or "who are you screwin', John?" (*), but they might has well have done; although I must say that it was all rather more tuneful than the Wood (**) used to be when I was a young man.

Indeed the singing was first class, the two principle men in particular. My companion for the evening was the lady who had taken me to the bassoon concert, but I am pleased to report that the small ensemble contained a clarinet as its woodwind element instead. The reduction in size of the musical accompaniment seemed to me to match perfectly the change in setting from a palace to a living room. If I have one complaint it's that in making the same change, the libretto became slightly banal.

In the penultimate scene Onegin and Tanya meet again for the first time seven years after the evening where he has rejected her love, danced so much with her sister Olga that the sister's boyfriend - his own best friend Lensky - is driven to jealous rage, the two friends fight, Lensky is killed and Onegin forced to flee into exile. All of which is summed up by the line "That evening ended rather badly". You can say that again.

* In the argot of the time, to 'screw' someone was to look at them in a challenging or disrespectful manner.

** As I may have mentioned in a previous post, the Wood was home to 'all the skins and all the hoods'.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018


Whilst the weather has thankfully cooled off a tad, and it has even rained a couple of times, nevertheless it's still too nice to do any wargaming related stuff. There may - or indeed may not - be a burst of activity in the annexe next week when the Casa Epictetus may - or indeed may not - be expecting a visitor. In the meantime Plastic Soldier Review have now reviewed the Red Box Burgundian Crossbowmen and agree with my spitfire comparison, although they seem to to find the handguns acceptable. Oh well, what do I know?

I have been lucky enough to see Earl Thomas perform again. The last time I saw him he was in full-on sex-on-a-stick mode and received a somewhat wild reception from the good women of Yorkshire, and from quite a few bad ones as well based on what they were shouting out. This time, possibly hoping to avoid all the catcalls (and sadly for those making them he's actually gay in any case), he went gospel. A more thorough review than I have room for can be found here, but I would like to point out that in well over forty years of gig going this is the first time I've ever seen a bagpipe solo; another item on the bucket list ticked off. Mentioning gigs makes me realise that there are a great number that I haven't reviewed; it also makes me realise that the moment has passed.

I do want to say something about "Withering Looks", a Brontë spoof by LipService Theatre, a company I have mentioned here before. As there were so many of them in the family one is never at a loss for a Brontë anniversary and as I live so close to Haworth Parsonage these are always celebrated enthusiastically hereabouts. This year being two hundred years after, well actually I forget after what precisely, this was the second such parody that I had seen recently, both pieces being two-handers. The first - which mainly seemed to draw on "Jane Eyre" - contained some excellent physical theatre, but had a badly underwritten script, and this latter one - with more of "Wuthering Heights" about it - was by some way the funnier. This may be because they interpreted the concept more loosely (their recreation of scenes from the 1939 film starring Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier and David Niven was a joy) or possibly because Emily is intrinsically funnier than Charlotte.

Politics continues to amaze but not delight. And surely there is no one better to comment on the activities of the big orange turd than the inventor of the flush toilet:

          "Treason doth never prosper, what's the reason?
            For if it prosper, none dare call it Treason."

                                        - Sir John Harrington

Sunday, 15 July 2018

The second time as farce

The world today contains a number of things that I never expected to see - a Russian stooge as US president probably tops the list - but I pleased to say that there is still room for some old favourites; the latest political scandal here in the UK concerns a Tory MP and a barmaid. Baxter Basics lives.

Which reminds me, I have been to see "Yes, Prime Minister" at the theatre. Unlike the recent stage version of Blackadder that I saw, this wasn't based on scripts of broadcast episodes, but rather a full length play written especially for the stage and which had starred the original TV cast in its first production.

Bernard and Sir Humphrey

I thought the performances very good - they were much less of an impersonation than seemed to be the case with Blackadder - and I confess I laughed out loud more than a sufficient number of times for it all to be considered a success. However, I didn't care for the play itself. as I found many aspects of the narrative distasteful to the point of being offensive. Jim Hacker seemed to have morphed from a naive, if unscrupulous, bungler, to a racist, misogynist, conscience-free incompetent; in other words a realistic enough description of a politician - see my previous reference to Putin's puppet - just not the one we were expecting to see.

Still, it is worth remembering one of Hacker's best lines at this particular point in British history:

"It's the people's will. I'm their leader. I must follow them."

Saturday, 14 July 2018


Protests against the tangerine tosser's visit to the UK have turned out to be even more widespread than anticipated:

“To sin by silence, when we should protest,
Makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance, and lust,
The inquisition yet would serve the law,
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare, must speak and speak again
To right the wrongs of many. Speech, thank God,
No vested power in this great day and land
Can gag or throttle. Press and voice may cry
Loud disapproval of existing ills;
May criticise oppression and condemn
The lawlessness of wealth-protecting laws
That let the children and childbearers toil
To purchase ease for idle millionaires.

Therefore I do protest against the boast
Of independence in this mighty land.
Call no chain strong, which holds one rusted link.
Call no land free, that holds one fettered slave.
Until the manacled slim wrists of babes
Are loosed to toss in childish sport and glee,
Until the mother bears no burden, save
The precious one beneath her heart, until
God’s soil is rescued from the clutch of greed
And given back to labour, let no man
Call this the land of freedom.” 

                                   -Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Friday, 13 July 2018

A Great American Speaks

"The trade of governing has always been monopolised by the most ignorant and the most rascally individuals of mankind." - Thomas Paine

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Joan wa quizzical

Georges Perec famously once wrote an entire novel without using the letter 'e'. This blog is composed on a laptop which is best described as being 'well old' and is currently suffering certain technical problems in typing the letter which comes between 'r' and 't' in the alphabet. The proofreading regime has been stepped up (which is, as you would expect, a euphemism for introduced in the first place), but pleae excue the occaional lape.

Perec belonged to the Oulipo group of writers and mathematicians. Fellow member, the late American author Harry Mathews, once described the group as "relatively uninterested in literature that purports to describe the 'real' world or that even pretends to be the product of sincere feeling". Long term readers of this blog - and bizarrely those appear to be the only type that there are - will perhaps recognise a resonance.

Poetry has recently made a comeback blogwise (and full apologies to everyone, especially the poet, for your bloggist's rather free-form translation from the Serbo-Croat yesterday; a much better translation can be found here) so I give you 'La Vie', a sonnet by Oulipo member Jacques Roubaud, which on this occasion I have left in the original French:

000000  0000  01
011010  111  001
101011  101  001
110011  0011  01

000101  0001  01
010101  011  001
010111  001  001
010101  0001  01

01 01 01 0010 11
01 01 01 01 01 11
001 001 010 101
000 1 0 1 001 00 0
0 0 0 0 0 110 0 0 0 101
0 0 0 0 01 0 0 0 0 0 0

While we are on the subject, this coming weekend sees the only non-imaginary 29th day of the month in this pataphysical year and o let' end with ome Beatle:

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

The not to be Nocturne

Tonight my brow is white-hot
And sweat burns in my eyes
My thoughts are bewitched
By the delusion which has beguiled me

My soul is passionate at its core
A torch in the deep of night
Silently submitting in solitude,
It is over

                - Tin Ujević


Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Crisis! What Crisis?

It seems that we shall not be attending Crisis in Antwerp this November after all; which is a great shame.

In terms of other crises, I'm afraid I am as bemused a bystander to the current meltdown in the UK government as everyone else. My political expertise, such as it is, relates to the internal workings of the Labour Party and the Tories, whom I hold in utter contempt anyway, are a bit of a closed book to me. I can however offer a behind the scenes look at how cabinet meetings are conducted at the moment:

“The oldest, shortest words - "yes" and "no" - are those which require the most thought.”
  - Pythagoras

Monday, 9 July 2018


I see that the random fonts are back again; I really don't know why. Perhaps it's as well that readers are reminded from time to time that your bloggist cannot make things work properly simply by banging them with his fist.

So let's have some random Fonz instead:

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Leaving the furrow

“But the point is, now, at this moment, or at any moment, we're only a cross-section of our real selves. What we really are is the whole stretch of ourselves, all our time, and when we come to the end of this life, all those selves, all our time, will be us -- the real you, the real me. And then perhaps we'll find ourselves in another time, which is only another kind of dream.
- J.B. Priestley, Time and the Conways

I have been back to the Bradford Literature Festival, this time for a talk on “Mysticism in the Work of J.B. Priestley”, which was fascinating stuff, demonstrating once again just how ahead of his time the man was. Since attending a talk at last year’s festival on his theories of time (clearly as Priestley is by some way Bradford’s most distinguished literary son there is something about him every year) I have read “An Experiment With Time”, by J.W. Dunne, a book which influenced Jack (as I believe he would have wished me to call him) enormously. My reaction to Dunne’s work was essentially “Hmmmm…”, and to be honest I am not suggesting that you follow my lead. I did try the experiment on myself, with results that failed to prove anything about me and what I dream about that I couldn't have told you in the first place.

As usual I came away from the talk with some reading to do, this time around the concept of bardo; it’s just possible that it will provide an explanation as to what has happened to wargaming activity in the Casa Epictetus over the last few months.

Thursday, 5 July 2018


“We find that the Romans owed the conquest of the world to no other cause than continual military training, exact observance of discipline in their camps, and unwearied cultivation of the other arts of war.” – Vegetius

None of which was to any avail last night in the refight of Ilipa (see here for James’ report and photographs). It was, as he says, a good game and very close until the last turn when the wheels rather came off for the Romans. I really do like ‘To the Strongest!’ and they’re even better once you remember them correctly.

It’s odd that James is going to play the Romans next week and most of the changes to the scenario favour that side, but then I suppose that coincidences do happen. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where the elephants achieved any success whatsoever so it will be interesting to see how that rule change plays out; still badly for the Carthaginians I’m sure.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Suzi Quatro

Back in the 1970s it was possible to be viewed as a sex symbol despite sporting a haircut that was very much of its time and which would be considered a bit ridiculous today. But enough about me, you want to hear about Suzi Quatro.

I have been to see her speak at the Bradford Literature Festival, and she was as delightful as you would expect. I mentioned the other day that I am fond of hearing stories of first hand encounters with old bluesmen and I find that the same is also true of rock stars from the decade that fashion forgot; who of my age wouldn't want to hear about Phil Lynott's mum's guest house? Speaking of my contemporaries, a word of warning to you: apparently Ms Quatro has tired of middle aged men sharing reminiscences about her looking down on them from their bedroom walls - one can see her point.

The only singing was an impromptu snatch of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" when asked to name her favourite songwriter; rather it was an evening of reminiscences and reading of extracts from her books followed by questions from the audience. In spite of living in the UK for the best part of half a century she has retained enough of her Detroit upbringing to be completely confused by some of the Yorkshire accents thrown at her. In her defence, one question did include the most peculiar pronunciation of the phrase "Mama's Boy" that I've ever heard. There were about two hundred people there in the sweltering heat - she apologised for not wearing leathers and blamed the temperature - and to my surprise at least it was about half and half men and women. The concept of female empowerment featured strongly in remarks from the floor.

I didn't stay to buy a book and get it signed, but I was intrigued enough to think that I might try to pick up a cheap remaindered copy of her autobiography in due course; praise indeed.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Another part of the field

And so to the theatre. Taking advantage of the hot weather I went to York to check out the pop-up Shakespearean theatre that has sprouted in the car park next to Clifford's Tower. Made of scaffolding rather than wood (they are at pains to point out that it's German scaffolding; whether that it is to reassure us of its quality or to make a political point I don't know) it is, to my eye at least, not as open to the sky as the Globe. The seats looked more comfortable - they had backs rather being just benches - but they are quite pricey so, being a tightarse, I was a groundling. There were drawbacks to that in a couple of ways: firstly the large pit area was very empty with only a few dozen occupants, most of whom sat on the floor thereby greatly reducing the atmosphere; and secondly it went on a bit. They chose to present almost the whole of "Richard III" instead of an edited version as is more usually performed. Every indication is that that's what they will also do with the other plays in repertory over the summer - be warned. In this case as far as I could see the only part they omitted was Act 5, Scene 4; which contains possibly the best known quote in the whole work and is, probably not coincidentally to its removal, pretty much the only scene which shows the man in a good light. Overall, and acknowledging the slight lack of atmosphere at this early stage in the season, I thought it wasn't bad at all.


Commemorations of the Great War continue of course in this, the centenary year of its end, and as a counterpoint to the recently seen production of "Journey's End", I have also been to see "Blackadder Goes Forth". The idea of putting TV sitcoms on the stage is not new (When I recently saw "100 Ways to Tie a Shoelace" in the studio at Harrogate Theatre most punters were there to see Joe Pasquale in "Some Mother's Do 'Ave 'Em" in the main house; you pays your money and you takes your choice), but is obviously a risky undertaking given the inevitable comparisons with the original cast that will arise. I thought that Baldrick worked the best, my companion for the evening plumped for George, but they all had as good a stab at it as one was entitled to expect. The show consisted of four episodes with the original scripts (all royalties to Comic Relief which co-author Richard Curtis co-founded) and I laughed a lot.  The design and staging coped admirably with the quick changes of scene required until the very end where, as you will no doubt recall, they go over the top for the big push. That bit, I am sad to report, was terrible; still, one can't have everything.

Monday, 2 July 2018

A Brief Post About Games

I claimed in a reply to a comment on a recent post that I had scratchbuilt all my warwagons. It didn't ring true when I typed it and a quick check in the annexe showed that indeed the one on the right in the photograph is a long out of production resin kit from Polish manufacturer Valdemar. It's a small point, but nevertheless I have been suffering the agenbite of inwit and wished to set the record straight.

The weather is still too nice to bother playing through the currently set up scenario, but I have chewed over it a bit more while sitting in the garden catching some rays. The problem with the period - as it is with many that are favoured by wargamers; I'm not at all sure why that should be - is that one side appears to have won all the battles despite eventually losing the war. To make a game of it, one has to handicap them a bit whilst still getting the balance right. War wagons are of course essentially defensive so there is also the need to to make things about more than simply waves of attacks by one side on the other, with the only issue to be resolved being whether it turns out to be Rorke's Drift or the Alamo.

Apart from the warwagons my Hussite and Imperial armies are generic 15th century forces who more often see service in the Wars of the Roses and occasionally take on the Ottomans. I have previously posted about my habit of buying any new release of figures that looks suitable (and by the way the figures mentioned in that post are still untouched in their box, exactly as you would expect) and have done it again. The Burgundian Crossbowmen haven't yet been featured on Plastic Soldier Review so let me get in first and say that they are, er, mixed. In fairness the figure (there are four identical sprues of eight figures) winding a stirrup crossbow is pretty good as are the pavises provided. The three crossbowmen firing are less promising. They actually look like someone launching one of those balsa models of a Spitfire powered by an elastic band (*) that I used to pester my dad to buy me on seaside holidays in the sixties. Had that been what the sculptor was aiming for I would have said job well done; as it is... The other four figures are firing gunpowder weapons. It's not what it says on the box, but fair enough. For the record I don't really need any more crossbowmen, handgunners or indeed pavises, so the mix supplied is neither here nor there. On the other hand the fact that the weapons being carried wouldn't look out of place in a 20th century conflict is somewhat more annoying. They certainly bear little resemblance to anything one of Charles the Bold's men would have used.

In other news James tells me that 'Jump or Burn' will shortly feature in the legendary wargames room once again. This is a cracking multiplayer WWI air combat game written by James himself and published by Piquet Inc. He long ago sold his original collection of planes, but some recent technical developments in the method of mounting models for the table - the details of which were somewhat obscured by the amount of prosecco he had drunk before he explained them to me - has caused him to paint some more. The rule book is notoriously badly edited, but is well worth persevering with.

Boardgaming has been rare over the last couple of months because I have variously been unable to see or unable to think. The best game I played and have previously recommended, was Medieval. A more straightforward Eurogame but also worth looking out for is Castell, which has the unlikely theme of building Catalan human towers.

(*) £25 or thereabouts on ebay; very tempting.

Sunday, 1 July 2018


It's the end of another month and time to catch up on what's been happening culture wise. However, the sun is shining, and I can't be bothered, and in any case I want to leave room for the joke about two wargamers at a party, should I be in the mood by the time I get to the bottom of the page. Highlights did include a talking bed - ironically in a play about someone whose memory has become unreliable following an accident - plus a chap sitting directly in front of me at an opera unexpectedly rushing the stage and joining in the curtain call. I thought at first that he was an operatic Karl Power, and was kicking myself for never having thought of it myself, but rather boringly he turned out to be the composer.

I also want to mention veteran blues guitarist Walter Trout who was excellent. I am a sucker for first hand stories about legends such as B.B. King, Albert King (who apparently wasn't very nice) and John Lee Hooker and Trout didn't disappoint. He was joined on stage for one number by local legend Chantel MacGregor. I've no idea who arranged for it to happen, but it quickly became apparent that they had never met and that she was seriously in awe of him. However, perhaps buoyed by shouts from the crowd of "Show him, Shanty", she didn't disappoint either and the faces of the band ended up showing both surprise and approval.

I've already mentioned the only film I saw in June, the truly dreadful 2001. Moving on to a real classic, those who, like me, love the La Marseillaise scene from Casablanca (which I have previously posted here in sad circumstances) may find this critical analysis interesting; hat tip to Liberal England for pointing me to it.

There were two wargamers who had been invited to a party. One, not at all confident with women, asks for advice from his friend who had far more success in that field. He is advised to take a large potato and put it down his underpants whereupon, or so he is assured, the women will flock to him. At the party they meet and the giver of the advice asks the recipient how things are going. "Not at all well" comes the reply "They are actually running away from me now." His friend looks him up and down and says "You're supposed to put it down the front."