Thursday, 5 December 2019

San Winnoc

The battle of San Winnoc reached a conclusion last night. It really was a most enjoyable game, tightly fought over three weeks and with the result in the balance right until the end. Naturally therefore, we are going to change the skirmisher rules again. I will leave it to James to explain the changes and the reasons for them, but I am broadly in agreement. I do however have observations on two other areas of the rules.

Under the traditional way of allocating morale chips each side got a fairly random mix of morale and additional cards for the deck, each of which allowed extra actions such as firing, moving etc over the course of each turn. The revised method seeks to balance these so that one either has more morale but fewer bonus cards, or visa versa. Clearly getting the balance between the two things is problematic, but I think we are all reasonably happy with the first attempts at doing so. In this game the French had the extra cards and the British the extra morale. The French prevailed, but even so I think, given the choice (which one isn't) I'd pick the higher morale every time. The extra cards are only useful if one gets the initiative to use them, whereas the morale is always of value.

More worryingly it seems as if for the last ten years and more I have been playing a completely different rule for automatic melee (i.e. against disorder or shaken units, flanks, skirmishers, or artillery) to that being played by everyone else. I have no reason to claim that my version is better than what appears to be the actual rule, and it would seem that I have been limiting my options somewhat for all that time. I have re-read both the Piquet master rules and James and Peter's Seven Years War set (Lemons Are Not The Only Fruit) and there is absolutely nothing in them on which to base what I was thinking, so there you go; I feel foolish.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Pot89pouri

The central heating saga drifts on, or perhaps I should say 'drips on' as there turns out to be a leak. The whole system is being drained tomorrow, which is something to look forward to. The relevance of this to a wargaming blog is that my painting tray and figures currently being worked on normally live (*) in the cupboard under the boiler and have had to be relocated out into the annexe, so no progress to report there.

However, the laser cutter has been declare operational again - the problem was apparently an incorrectly set bed size - and I have had another go. The reworked town wall section looks fine and is now ready to go into mass production, or at least it will be when I have increased the height of each of the end pieces by one millimetre; a very odd mistake to have made in the first place. I also produced a test of a wall tower, looking at which made me realise what it ought to look like. Actually it ought to look round rather than square, but pragmatism means that square it is. My new idea is somewhat complex, but in theory at least the laser cut pieces will be accurate and will fit together snugly.




The above picture is dual purpose, showing both the one millimetre gap which proves that the theory of snug fitting pieces is subject always to the competence of the chap doing the design, and out of focus off to the right is the cloth soaking up the leak from the radiator.

I had hoped to have welcomed the blog's Luxembourg correspondent to the Casa Epictetus for a visit at some point in the next couple of weeks, but this has been put on hold by what he describes variously as "etwas äußerst Ärgerliches" and "verdammte Scheiße". I suspect that he just doesn't want to run the risk of not being allowed back into mainland Europe after Election Day proves once and for all that the country has gone completely mad and the rest of them decide to quarantine us.


* I do know that they aren't really alive.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Hey Lord, don't ask me questions

After forty years and two false starts I have finally seen Graham Parker play live. As David said here Parker has aged along with the rest of us. In fact I'd go so far as to say that he now looks like Alf Garnett. Given his origins he also unsurprisingly sounds like the man as well; or at least he would if Johnny Speight had made his character an enthusiast for recreational drugs instead of West Ham. Still, despite his tour-strained voice the wait was well worthwhile:




Another act from the distant past that I'd never seen before was Wishbone Ash, who I have caught on their current 50th anniversary tour. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, their original bassist and vocalist Martin Turner is also touring and playing only the band's songs, so I went to see him as well. Both shows were excellent, although I would just give the edge to Turner's, oddly enough for music that is all about the guitars that's because his singing was better. The audience for both - and I don't imagine I was the only overlap - was essentially grizzled old men, and it was rather amusing when they all - including me - leapt into a bopping frenzy at the appropriate point in this song; it certainly takes me back:



Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Cornucopia

This piece, by sculptor Edward Allington, is entitled 'One Unforgiving Moment', which perhaps indicates that the smaller vases result from the breakage of the larger, but for some reason exist as miniaturised replicas; fractals rather than fragments.




Elsewhere in his work Allington differentiates between factory based mass production and large scale craft workshops in which those involved have the opportunity to display pride in their work. Viewing it as a modeller and wargamer it may not be surprising that it made me think of an historical original being reproduced both in miniature and in great number.

Anyway, mention of fractals reminds me of my favourite mathematical joke:

Q: What does the B in Benoit B. Mandelbrot stand for?
A: Benoit B. Mandelbrot

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Mr and Mrs Miller

"Windmill or no windmill, he said, life would go on as it had always gone on - that is, badly." 
- George Orwell

James' new windmill put in an appearance for this week's game, but despite what Orwell wrote in 'Animal Farm' things definitely got better. Orwell's mill represented the industrialisation of the Soviet Union, whereas James' represents Up 1 sometimes and Down 1 on other occasions, which perhaps explains the difference. Or more likely it was the tweaks made to the skirmish rules regarding how far in front of the formed body they could be. In either event it was a very enjoyable first half (or possibly third) of the game. I've got much more morale and significantly outnumber the French in the centre, but am probably going to quite quickly lose the town of San Honore. The rules are getting close to being finished I think. I am a bit confused about how skirmishers get pushed back, but perhaps that's just me.




Elsewhere, heat has returned to the Casa Epictetus after nine days. This may come as a disappointment to some of the ladies of West and North Yorkshire, but frankly I need a rest. A bit of warmth is just the right environment for some painting  so I was glad to receive my recent order from Newline Designs. If you recall I had originally bought two chariots and two packs of crew only to discover that each pack of crew contained sufficient for two chariots. Naturally I therefore bought two more chariots. To my surprise each of the new arrivals has a crew in the pack already, leaving me, as before, with two extra crews. This one could run and run.




The laser cutter is still hors de combat.


Friday, 22 November 2019

Barbecue Bob and Laughing Charley

I have been to see Catfish Keith, a man who I know I have often mentioned here before. Suffice it to say that he was as good as ever. Let's hear him playing some Blind Willie Johnson:




Both Catfish Keith and Dave Speight, the support act, referenced Barbecue Bob Hicks and his brother Laughing Charley Lincoln, two somewhat more obscure contemporaries of Johnson (and, before anyone asks, I have no idea why they have different surnames). Barbecue Bob wrote 'Motherless Child', covered by Eric Clapton amongst others and not to be confused with 'Motherless Children' written by Johnson and of course also covered by Clapton. Here's the first:




Dave Speight, an accomplished country blues performer himself, was the support for The Stumble last weekend as well (pretty much identical songs and patter in fact). Preston's finest blues band are excellent live and definitely worth seeing should you get the chance:




The Stumble, like many blues bands (the Rolling Stones, Canned Heat, Dr Feelgood, Double Trouble etc. etc. etc.) take their name from someone else's song, in this case a Freddie King instrumental. Here's Peter Green playing with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers:




Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Thank you London

The laser cutter isn't working properly and my boiler isn't working at all. The former is possibly because of floating in the the y-axis belt tensioners, or perhaps because the head acceleration is set too high for vector cutting. The latter may be because the pressure sensor has failed or alternatively because there is a leak. It increasingly seems as if Nietzsche was correct and there are no absolute truths.

So, instead let's talk pub rock again. I've only just heard that Larry Wallis died in September. Although he was at one point a member of Motorhead, I always think of him in the context of the Live Stiffs tour. He was Wreckless Eric's producer, Dr. Feelgood recorded at least one of his songs, and on the original studio version of the following number he was backed by the rhythm section of Eddie and the Hot Rods. Here's 'Police Car' from the album of the Stiffs tour:




And let's have another obscure but brilliant track from a live album of the time 'Live at the Hope and Anchor'. This is Phil Rambow with 'Underground Romance':




Fun fact: Rambow co-wrote 'There's a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis' with Kirsty MacColl. Here's a different take on that song from the Tex Pistols featuring Rambow:




That track also features Martin Belmont on guitar. Belmont is, of course, a pub rock stalwart and was in the original Rumour. I am hoping to see Graham Parker (sadly without the Rumour) next week. I've twice had tickets to see Parker in recent years and failed for various reasons to get to the gigs. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Walls Wonderman



I am once again going to write about wargaming in order to avoid dwelling on the fact that my boiler has chosen mid-November as the appropriate time to break down.We finished the battle of Campo Veja last night, and it ended in a victory for not me. Things swung backwards and forwards - always the sign of a fun game - and there were several occasions when I was literally just on the verge of winning, and yet I didn't. Peter managed to save a number of match points and then served out for the win. If James writes it up then you'll get more detail; if not then you won't. We are getting to understand the tactics to employ with the rules as they stand and will presumably either break them at some point or decide that they'll do as they are.

I took my piece of laser cut wall to show the chaps and despite managing to snap a bit of it off en route the resultant conversations were most helpful. Having thought it over I am going to make a couple of changes to facilitate assembly. First I shall increase the depth of the side pieces and line up construction from the back edge rather than the front. Secondly I shall make the crenellations symmetrical along sections (at least on those of length 10 cm and multiples) to avoid the risk of unwanted chirality occurring if I don't pay proper attention when gluing the things together. I have also clarified the scope a bit in my mind following some discussion about the appropriate height of the wall sections. I think I have always intended, but not necessarily articulated, that these are town walls. What I need to do is also make walls for a citadel/castle, which would obviously be somewhat taller.

Just for completeness I will mention that there has been a fair amount of figure painting. As well as a somewhat random unit of Prussian Napoleonic infantry I have finished a number of early imperial Romans (24 eastern archers, 6 Spanish slingers) and two Celtic chariots. Next up are some auxiliary infantry. With the exception of the Roman light infantry these are more aimed at having bigger units to fill the squares when playing To the Strongest! than they are at fielding more units. The problem, which you have no doubt already thought of, is that is that bigger Roman units will inevitably require larger Celtic warbands. It's a treadmill.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Stimulated emissions

"You know, I have one simple request! And that is to have sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads." - Dr. Evil




When Ian Fleming wrote 'Goldfinger' he had the villain try to kill Bond with a circular saw, because that was the highest level of technology they had back then in the dark ages. In 1964 the makers of the film wanted to appear more modern and so replaced the saw with an industrial metal-cutting laser beam; it seemed as much of a fantasy at the time as the Aston Martin with the ejector seat and the machine guns behind the headlights. That is of course because it really was fantasy; such things did not actually exist. Even someone as imaginative as my eight year old self would not have dreamed that I would one day be able to twist a knob and turn the power of a laser beam up to 11, but lo, it has come to pass. Slightly disappointingly, it's done by entering a number on to a screen rather than yanking a lever, and to be precise I didn't so much increase the energy as slow down the speed at which the beam travelled over the surface. Still, and as you would expect, I did wear a dinner jacket and bow tie.

It's been about three weeks since I first mentioned the laser cutter, so why the delay? And what have I actually done with it? Well, at first there was obviously the impact of my operatic tour to North Wales, and since then I have been concentrating on the design phase. That is a euphemism for 'I have been struggling with the software'. As regular readers will appreciate, I am of a frugal nature and so have been using a free CAD programme which I found online, with all the concomitant problems. In addition the control software for the machine itself is both old and clunky which hasn't helped. However, and after a couple of false starts, I have now produced the following:




As a proof of concept I am very happy with it. I just need to finalise the dimensions, design all the complicated bits like corners and towers, and buy some better glue, following which the walls of Constantinople - and everywhere else because I am only going to make one set - will be ready for the games table.

Friday, 8 November 2019

But I'll say it anyway

"This November there seems nothing to say" - Anne Sexton

Our playtesting of Napoleonic rules - specifically Peninsular Napoleonic rules - continues. They are providing entertaining games that are fun to play, which is probably the most important thing. Whether they reflect what actually happened is impossible to tell, but things are turning out noticeably different from the way they do with the Seven Years War rules, which I am going to take as a good sign. In the current game the British have one command which is late to arrive. As French commander I have thrown everything forward (to be more precise I was fortunate enough to draw the morale cards which enabled me to start further forwards) with the hope of winning before the reinforcements turn up. I would offer odds of about 2 to 1 against me at the moment. Coming back to the rules, certain elements have proved sufficiently popular that they may well be retrofitted to previous rules developed in the legendary wargames room. Cue lots more playtesting.

I have got round to opening my recent order from Newline Designs to find that I have bought twice as many chariot crews as are needed for the number of chariots that I purchased. There is only one solution: I shall buy even more chariots. 

Finally, I haven't been mentioning boardgames very much recently because I haven't been playing them very much. I have however managed a second game of Age of Steam, a mere eighteen months on from the first and can confirm my original opinion that it's a good 'un.


Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Dr Feelgood

Hearing Be Bop Deluxe the other day set me thinking about pub rock. A post on the subject from a few weeks ago currently has the honour of having the fewest viewers of any post in all the years I've been doing this, so it's clearly a subject of no interest to anyone other than me. What better reason to write some more about it? Or indeed what better reason to ask a rhetorical question?

So, let's have something from the unrivalled masters of the genre, Dr Feelgood:




I have always regretted never having seen this classic line up: Wilko Johnson, Lee Brilleaux, John B. Sparks and The Big Figure. I was therefore somewhat surprised when, at a university reunion last year, someone claimed that not only had we seen them (at Huddersfield Poly apparently), but that I had written a review of the gig for the student newspaper. Funny thing, memory.


Saturday, 2 November 2019

Bracing

I have been to Llandudno, which turned out to be a very pleasant place, although it would have been even better if the temperature had been ten degrees higher. I had never been before and had no idea that it was a purpose built resort in the manner of Cancun or Pattaya, albeit on a more human scale than the former and less sleazy than the latter. The promenade is particularly impressive, kept free of tack and with all the low rise Victorian hotels painted in pastel colours. I saw a spectacular fireworks display from the promenade one evening. The reason it was held a few days earlier than in the rest of the country was that they set it up on the beach and the date is therefore determined by the times of the tide.

It was colder and gloomier than this when I was there

In an attempt to shoehorn in something vaguely wargaming related can I point out that the Great Orme, seen rising behind the town in the photo, is home to the flock of goats from the Royal Welch Fusiliers select their regimental mascot. More directly connected to military history is the magnificent Conwy castle:




The town of Conwy, which has virtually all its medieval walls intact, is very nice as well, with plenty of coffee shops to duck into when visitors lose feeling in their extremities. It also boasts Great Britain's smallest house:




As I was in full tourist mode I paid my quid and went in. I can confirm that it is indeed very small. I wanted to know whether the claim that it is GB's smallest house meant that there is a smaller one in Northern Ireland, but the otherwise charming Welsh lady in the picture affected to have no interest in one of the most contentious current constitutional issues and said that she didn't know.

I may in due course explain exactly what took me to North Wales, but for now let me relate one thing that happened last week which touches on this previous post about people dying in theatres.  I was in the Venue Cymru and as curtain up approached I was eyeing the vacant seat next to me with a view to putting my coat over it if no one arrived to claim it. The lady sitting on the other side of it leaned over to me and said "It's OK, she's not coming. I've just been to her funeral."

Henry Liddell, father of Alice, had a holiday home on the West Shore at Llandudno and was possibly, depending on whom you believe, visited there by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. In any event the town is littered with statues of characters from his books. In one of those coincidences that I like even if no one else does, on the day of my return I went to see June Tabor and the Oysterband at Leeds Town Hall and for their first encore they did a cover of Jefferson  Airplane's 'White Rabbit'. Astonishingly Grace Slick was 80 last Wednesday, so here's the original as performed at Woodstock:







Monday, 28 October 2019

Pot88pouri

I'm off to the seaside, which is a completely normal thing to do in late October in the UK, so just a quick post before I go. Fiasco has got its usual half-hearted response from bloggers, but personally I think they are  missing the point. The consensus seems to be that it's not worth travelling a long distance for, and indeed it isn't; it's not that sort of show. But for those closer at hand it's a chance to see (and sometimes play) some games, chat to some people and buy some toys. All that, plus an excellent (and free) military museum in the same place. On the downside the lighting is crap and the parking is expensive; you can't have everything. Somewhere with better lighting and free parking is Recon, which actually takes place somewhat closer to the Casa Epictetus than Fiasco does. We don't put on anything there there because, amongst other things, it is mainly participation games, and that requires levels of imagination and interpersonal skills way beyond anything that we possess. The next one is December 7th.

James and Peter arrive at Fiasco

A trip to a wargames show involves certain rituals, one of which is that James will inevitably regale us with a story of some misadventure which befell him in the past, usually when he had been on the sauce. This time's tale seemed to be cat related - the details were a little vague - and involved him falling from an upper storey window, sliding down a sloping roof and thence to the ground. Thankfully he landed on his head and so no harm was done.

Let's finish with some Be Bop Deluxe. They wee, of course, from Wakefield, so what better than 'Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape':



Sunday, 27 October 2019

Smallish game at a smallish show

So, to Fiasco. It seemed fairly well attended, especially during the morning and we fielded the usual large number of questions. Most of them were about either James' scratchbuilt buildings or the cloth. One or two people asked what rules we were using, but mention of Piquet didn't elicit any subsequent interest; trendsetters we aren't. We were putting on a fairly small game as James is being a bit dilatory on the Peninsular painting front. Anyway, it looked fine - not too crowded - and were able to play to a conclusion quite easily.

It was triumph for Wellington, but so it should have been. The scenario gave him a far better deck, command dice etc and my plan wasn't much more sophisticated than let's use our ability to move more often than the French to advance on a broad front and sweep all before us. The layout wasn't hugely different that that which we have played over over the last three weeks and the action ended up taking place on the same hill at one end of the table with, once again, a good proportion of each side's units not getting into action. It was a comfortable win and would have been even easier if I'd been paying attention; the French didn't perform too badly in the circumstances.

As for the rules:
  • It's hard to judge the skirmish rules because nobody really did anything with them; although, let's be honest, that probably means they're not working.
  • I liked the new rule that the first UI loss makes no difference to combat.
  • I still don't like the town fighting rules, but have no better suggestions.
  • The technique James has started using to encourage attacking (basically morale points for objectives, but with a twist) is excellent in principle, but the practical details don't seem to have been thought through.

Purchases were limited to what I had ordered in advance:
  • Slopes from Kallistra; even small hills and ridges seem to require shed loads of the things.
  • Gaullish chariots from Newline Designs; no explanation necessary.
  • Bases from Warbases; the laser cutter I have access to will only be economic for bespoke items.
I didn't take any photos, but there are a couple of our game here, both of which are somewhat spoiled by the sight of yours truly leaning heavily on the table as if I have lost the ability to stand up straight. Mr Ashton is right about the lighting.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Section by section

Your bloggist likes a good talk/lecture. Apart from those that I've already written about I have fairly recently been to a number of others on subjects as diverse as Sir Walter Ralegh and Georgia O'Keefe. So I was a bit embarrassed and annoyed that I have only just discovered that The Royal Armouries runs a series of free lectures once or twice a month, especially as I lived literally next door to the place for a year. Now, if there is one type of talk that Epictetus likes above all others it's one for which he doesn't have to pay and so I took myself off to listen to the latest, given by Dr Alexander Shaw and entitled 'Band of Brothers'.




It was a comparison of the tactics employed by British rifle sections of the Second World War with those used by their German equivalents. This really isn't my area of expertise so I won't try to pass on his conclusions, beyond the general one that, for all the technological advances during it, victory in that war was still dependent on small groups of isolated men killing or being killed. It was a comprehensive run through explaining how things changed during the war and how, in the case of the British particularly, these tactics were adapted for the desert, the jungle and for urban warfare. It was fascinating stuff and I learned a lot, admittedly from a low base. Did you know that a 3" mortar could fire 60% more HE a minute than a 25pdr? Perhaps you did, but I didn't.




I'm afraid it didn't stimulate any long suppressed desire to wargame it. It's all a bit too close to home for me, a bit too recent. And let's be honest, re-fighting Sidi Rezegh one hundred and thirty seven times did nothing to endear the period to me. Nor am I really interested in small scale actions. But, I hear you say, what about gaming WWI with Through the Mud and the Blood? Well, interesting as the few games we had were, I don't sense any appetite from any of us to play it any more. And it is actually, despite one figure representing one man, at a somewhat higher level than what was discussed here. One of Dr Shaw's points was to illustrate the changes in British tactics between the wars, with the specialist sections of the Great War (rifle, Lewis gun, rifle grenades and bombers) being replaced by four homogeneous rifle sections each with a Bren gun.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Skirmishers etc etc

James and I finished the game which had been delayed last week by the sudden appearance of the mad cat and the mad cat woman. I checked their location early on the day and they were apparently just outside Haworth (*), so it seemed that my kitchen was unthreatened. Just to be on the safe side I turned all the lights out mid-afternoon and sat quietly in the dark until it was time to go out.

Anyway, the game continued to be most enjoyable and ended in a fairly comprehensive victory for the British despite them having lost the entire brigade in their centre. At one point they held all four town sections of Momio Cochinello, but by the end not only had all four battalions fled the table, but they had lost their commander killed in action and his replacement killed before he got anywhere near the action. No battle honours for them. Other than long range and ineffective artillery fire there was no fighting at all on the British right, so totes kudos goes to the left flank. I, possibly for the first time in my entire wargaming career, held my cavalry in reserve until the auspicious moment, moved them to the appropriate place, charged them at the correct target at precisely the right time and won the day. I can promise that it won't happen again.

But what of the rules, you ask? They are still a work in progress of course. One problem seems to be that poor units are really, really poor and run away very easily. Part of the issue is that many of the rules are ported from the Seven Years War and in that units get a benefit from being in a linear formation. Napoleonic units didn't fight in that way or therefore get those benefits. Probably the simplest thing is to give them better morale to start with; after all one assumes that's why they were able to move on from fighting in long lines. As for the skirmish rules, I'm frankly not sure we were playing what was written down anyway. And there is still something not right about the town fighting rules.

In other wargaming news:

  • I have been doing some painting. You will recall that I have bought some Roman Auxiliary reinforcements and so you will not be surprised that what is on the painting table is a unit of Napoleonic Prussian infantry.  
  • I have acquired some Hexon rough ground on eBay. Second hand Hexon is usually too expensive to be worth buying once you take postage into account, but this was a reasonable price and I wanted some more for use with Square Bashing.
  • I have gained access to a laser cutter, been fully accredited to use it, and am going to attempt to make, initially at least, some town walls to my specific design. It will be ten days or so before I am able to have my first stab - I am going on a cultural excursion to a secret and exotic location next week - but I shall report back.
  • It's the Fiasco show at the Royal Armouries in Leeds this Sunday. We shall be putting on a game with James' Peninsular figures and our 'make it up as you go along' rules. If you're there please stop by and speak to Peter or James about what's going on and maybe exchange a polite, but silent, nod with me.


* "I can say with sincerity that I like cats... A cat is an animal which has more human feelings than almost any other." - Emily Brontë

Monday, 21 October 2019

Having a hard Bard time

“Shakespeare is a drunken savage, whose plays please only those in London and Canada.” - Voltaire

I have finally caught up with a screening of the NT Live (or, in my case, not particularly live) broadcast of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' from the Bridge Theatre. It was excellent, well worth the five star reviews it got, and I say that as someone completely over whose head sailed various pop cultural references as diverse as television talent shows and Game of Thrones. Among the things that critics raved over were the fairies portrayed by gymnasts dangling from ropes, and the fact that in a reversal of gender roles it was Oberon who was duped into falling in love with an ass. Last year at the pop-up Shakespeare's Rose Theatre in York they put on a production of the piece in which one of the fairies was a gymnast swinging about on ropes (and incidentally very impressively performing the plank on the balustrade of a balcony) while Oberon was played by a woman and Titania by a man. Like all four shows there that summer it got few reviews and those that it did receive weren't very good. Are the press biased towards the capital? [That's not a rhetorical question; it's one with a bloody obvious answer] Or perhaps it's because the Rose was quite openly a profit-making venture rather than being part of the subsidised sector. I have to tell you that the Rose have had the last laugh regarding that latter point: they have lost so much money on their second season that they have gone bust.




Audiences were significantly down year on year (as anyone who lives in the UK knows, the weather in 2018 was belting and in 2019 it wasn't), but one punter remained faithful and again saw all four plays performed throughout the summer. Actually make that two because the elder Miss Epictetus, having graduated with a 2:1, was able to join the ageing parent for 'Twelfth Night'. We both enjoyed it very much, with its fine female Malvolio, as is de rigueur these days. Hamlet (female Horatio obviously) and the Tempest were done straightish, and were all the better for that. The latter was directed by Philip Franks, a man who used to get paid to kiss Catherine Zeta Jones and whose career has, inevitably really, been on a downward spiral ever since. The play with the most obvious production twist was Henry V, which had the warrior king played by a woman. That worked fine, but the costume choices were a bit odd. Everyone was in modern dress except Maggie Bain in the title role. She started in medieval garb, moved on to be - apparently - dressed as Nelson before ending up in modern dress uniform. Presumably they were making some sort of point, but whatever it was ended up being undermined by the fact that she looked disturbingly like Michael Jackson.




Anyway, unless someone else picks up the idea and has a plan to draw in bigger crowds to an open air venue at the mercy of the Yorkshire weather, I'm afraid it's probably run its course; which I, and apparently only I, regard as a great shame.


"There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so" - Hamlet

Thursday, 17 October 2019

First, bell the cat

One staple of wargames blogs is the story of how gaming has been disrupted by cats. My being  bit of an ailurophobe has led to that sort of posting not featuring here - until now....

I had intended to post today about a rare double wargame Wednesday, with firstly Keith visiting the annexe for some To the Strongest!, followed by visiting the legendary wargames room to conclude the game that James and I had enjoyed so much the previous week. The first half of the plan worked fine, with Keith taking a liking to the rules, with which he was able to draw a number of parallels with the DBMM that he usually plays. I set up a simple Romans v Celts game on a featureless tabletop and suggested he played the latter as, while they would probably lose, they were were more interesting. He did so, but ignored my instructions to lose by routing the Romans in double quick time. The replacement morale rules in Ever Stronger can be very unkind to formations who stand in a couple of lines on the defensive against attackers arriving piecemeal depending on the vagaries of initiative. I think another game with more complex terrain is in order. The chariots are still crap.

Events were then disrupted by the unexpected arrival of Coral Laroc - previously mentioned on this blog more than once, but whom I hadn't seen for about eighteen months - with her cat, demanding a shower (Coral not the cat). There is naturally an interesting and immensely complicated backstory as to why she arrived out of the blue after such a long gap, why she wanted to perform her ablutions at the Casa Epictetus, and why she brought the bloody cat with her. However, this blog is dedicated to, and focused on, wargaming and has no space for digressions such as that. The part that is germane to us is that when she came downstairs after her shower it transpired that the cat had disappeared. There followed a lot of finger wagging in my direction before she produced a cat-finding app on her phone, which rather led me to believe she (the cat not Coral) is a bit prone to sloping off when she feels like it. Anyway, said app identified that the cat was either behind or underneath one of the fitted cupboards in the kitchen. It was at that point that I decided to phone James and tell him not to expect me. 

So what we had was a cat that we could neither see not hear and which we didn't know whether was alive or dead. Now, some readers may be feeling the same sense of recognition about this scenario that I was. We were, it seemed, repeating Schrödinger's famous thought experiment about the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, in my kitchen. My main conclusion from the available evidence was that my own Verschränkung with Ms Laroc and Daizee was greater than I wished it to be. Sadly the distinguished physicist was not very specific about how one got the cat out of its box and so we were left very much to our own devices. The former Mrs Epictetus owns a Jack Russell and so my suggestion was that we commandeered that and set it to flush out the cat. However, I was persuaded of the dangers that we might end up in an 'old lady who swallowed a fly' situation with ever larger mammals needing to be introduced into the house in order to reach a conclusion. In the end therefore I reached for the toolbox and partially dismantled the kitchen, allowing cat and owner to be reunited. Instead of throttling the beast, as it deserved, Coral appropriated a tin of tuna from one of the cupboards still standing and fed it "to try to help it overcome its trauma". The world has gone mad.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

My name is Jeeves, Reginald Jeeves

The comment by nundanket (I have never been sure why there is no capital letter in that name) about Fry and Laurie being the definitive Jeeves and Wooster raises a couple of questions in my mind.

The first is that as this list appears to be getting longer, do we have any rules as to what qualifications character and actor need in order to be on it. I would suggest the following:

  • The original character needs to have appeared in a book or books which have subsequently been adapted for radio, television or film.
  • Several different adaptations need to have been made featuring different actors in the role.
  • One actor needs to stand out from the others to such an extent that when one reads the original literary work it is that actor whom one sees in ones mind's eye.
So, even though he clearly qualifies for the last point no one would claim that Ian McKellen is the definitive Gandalf, because let's be honest he's the only Gandalf; ditto Daniel Radcliffe et al. Colin Firth might well make the list as Mr Darcy, as we all know there have been many adaptations even if we don't know who was in them, but I'm going to disallow Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. I also won't include any of the Bonds, James Bonds because even if one has a favourite (Sean Connery obviously) the books and films are so different that visualising actor from printed page isn't by any means automatic.

That issue - congruence between book and adaptation - was raised by David Suchet when he spoke about being offered the role of Poirot in the first place. After mentioning that his brother advised him not to touch it with a barge pole, he said that his own reaction was that although it had been interpreted many times before (and rather bizarrely Suchet once played Inspector Japp to Peter Ustinov's Poirot) no one had ever really portrayed the Belgian detective as Agatha Christie wrote him; and so that's what he set out to do. Indeed it was that which caused him to decline to appear in dramatisations of those Poirot novels commissioned in the last few years by Christie's estate and written by Sophie Hannah. 

What Fry and Laurie's Jeeves and Wooster shares with Suchet's Poirot, Brett's Holmes etc is fidelity to the character even when the transfer to a different medium requires the plot to be messed about somewhat. So do I concur with nundanket's view that they are also definitive? No, and the reason is because I am so very old. I have fond memories of listening to the 1970's Radio 4 dramatisations featuring Richard Briars and Sir Michael Horden and so, despite Fry having been a much more appropriate age to have played Jeeves than Horden, it is Horden's voice I hear when I read P.G. Wodehouse.

And being as old as I am, the black and white television Wooster of my youth was Ian Carmichael (with Dennis Price as Jeeves), which reminds me of another entry for my list: Ian Carmichael is the definitive Lord Peter Wimsey.


Monday, 14 October 2019

“Life? Don’t talk to me about life!”

I am afraid that this blog has done it again. My recent post about W.B. Yeats contained an allusion to a quote by Marvin the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adam's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe. No sooner had it been published than Stephen Moore, the voice of said Marvin on radio and television, sadly died. He was of course a most distinguished actor - I remember seeing him as Hector in the NT's touring production of 'The History Boys' - but I'm afraid he will forever live in an awful lot of memories as a depressed machine.




Speaking of distinguished actors I have been to see David Suchet speak about his life. Just as Jeremy Brett is the definitive Holmes, so surely there is no other Poirot (who, just like Marvin, had a brain the size of a planet) to rival Suchet's.




He either finds it very easy to slip in and out of character as the Belgian detective or, despite having played many other parts in his career, the boundaries between life and fiction are beginning to blur for him. In fact he told one story about one lady who encountering him in costume just off set on location expressed a fervent hope that there hadn't been a murder locally, and when being told by him in Poirot's accent that he was merely on holiday replied by thanking him for choosing her hometown in which to vacation. It was all very entertaining and it is always thought-provoking to note what a contribution migrants to the UK and their families have made to national life: as well, of course, as his broadcaster brother John, his father was one of Sir Alexander Fleming's assistants in the early days of penicillin and his grandfather was the Fleet Street photographer who took the first photograph of Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson.


Friday, 11 October 2019

Skirmishers etc

"...those who in the skirmishing or in similar circumstances in which there is no need to engage in single combat, have voluntarily and by choice placed themselves in danger" 
- Polybius


The search for a mechanic for dealing with Napoleonic skirmishers within the overall framework of Piquet, one which is elegant and simple, but which also gives the appropriate flavour to the game is over. We've given up. Instead we have decided to embrace the complexity and, wouldn't you just know it, seem to have straight away stumbled across something which is actually not that complicated, looks and feels sort of right, and appears to give quite a good game. I'm sure it will undergo refinement, but for now at least the core structure seems OK. That's more than can be said for the town fighting rules, but one thing at a time.

In other wargaming news I have got off my backside and set up a game in the annexe. My new local opponent has just about got the hang of C&C, so it is therefore time to move on to different rules before he starts beating me. I have consequently set up a simple Roman vs Celts game of To the Strongest!. Doing so has made me realise that I don't have that many Roman auxiliaries. I can make up sufficient units, but they are all a bit on the numerically small side. I have therefore ordered a couple of boxes, plus the appropriate movement trays to beef them up to a more robust and aesthetically pleasing state. Looking at the table the crapness of the chariots - well known to regular readers - is also apparent and so I have ordered some of those as well. Have no fear, I won't actually get rid of any, I shall just field more and more and more.



Monday, 7 October 2019

WB Yeats and The Second Coming

"Throughout the whole absurd life I’ve lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in my future, across years that were still to come, and as it passed, this wind levelled whatever was offered to me at the time, in years no more real than the ones I was living."

                                         - Albert Camus




W.B. Yeats


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


                                      - W.B. Yeats


News of Ciaran Carson's death came on the same day that I attended a discussion to mark the centenary of Yeats' poem, held by Irish poets and academics John MacAuliffe, Martina Evans, Alan Gillis and Colette Bryce. To mark his passing they read from his work, with the final poem of the evening being 'Fear', whose opening two lines I have always rather liked:


I fear the vast dimensions of eternity.

I fear the gap between the platform and the train.

What Carson is saying is that the human mind, being either incapable or unwilling to face up to the infinity and emptiness of time and space and our own insignificance in it as mere pawns of fate, chooses instead to focus on those smaller, more immediate risks which we think we can control. For me there is also an element of this in Yeats' much quoted (and much more quoted since June 2016) poem. The reason for the concept of a second coming (or its equivalent in other religions) is precisely to put some sort of end point on our current situation. But the poet is also saying that when the apocalypse comes - and it will come because it always has before - it won't be in one big bang, but rather in a series of mundane problems of the type we face every day anyway: the falcon will not hear the falconer for example. In other words, we may not recognise it when we see it; indeed, we may have already failed to recognise it.


The panellists wisely steered away from Yeats' peculiar love life, his spiritualism and his anti-democratic political views and focused on his craftsmanship. Whilst arising from the context of the end of the Great War, the struggle for Irish independence, the Bolshevik revolution etc, the poem is timeless and relevant to any age that fears and foresees an impending calamity; which, of course, has been the case for all civilisations throughout history and will continue to be so until man finally annihilates himself completely.


I won't attempt to summarise the wide-ranging discussion but it covered areas as diverse as the Riddles of the Sphinx (I didn't previously know that there were two), Brueghel's painting of Icarus (reproduced in this blog post about Auden's poem), and the band Uriah Heep (unlikely ever to be mentioned further in this blog unless I get round to writing a post about how I spent my 8,000th day alive), to the effect of becoming a father on middle-aged men (if you ask me the first ten years are the most difficult, and the subsequent ten years are the most difficult as well).




Uriah Heep

Let's finish with another Irish poet, again writing about a specific event, but with universal applicability:



Anything can happen. You know how Jupiter
Will mostly wait for clouds to gather head
Before he hurls the lightning? Well, just now
He galloped his thunder cart and his horses

Across a clear blue sky. It shook the earth
And the clogged underearth, the River Styx,
The winding streams, the Atlantic shore itself.
Anything can happen, the tallest towers

Be overturned, those in high places daunted,
Those overlooked regarded. Stropped-beak Fortune
Swoops, making the air gasp, tearing the crest off one,
Setting it down bleeding on the next.

Ground gives. The heaven's weight
Lifts up off Atlas like a kettle-lid.
Capstones shift, nothing resettles right.
Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away.


                      - Seamus Heaney


Sunday, 6 October 2019

Ciaran Carson

The Irish poet Ciaran Carson has died. Much of his work was about the Troubles, and so will perhaps gain a grim new relevance soon. I have read recently that one of the ironies about the Irish border being so central to the debate about leaving the EU is that it coincides with the rest of the UK becoming divided into two mutually uncomprehending and hostile camps in the same way that Northern Ireland always has been; so perhaps that relevance is already there. Note the closing stanza of this poem (which also incidentally has a wargamer friendly title):


Jacta Est Alea 

It was one of those puzzling necks of the woods
Where the South was in the North, the way
The double cross in a jigsaw loops into its matrix,
like the border was a clef


With arbitrary teeth indented in it.
Here, it cut clean across the plastic
Lounge of 'The Half-Way House";
My heart lay in the Republic


While my head was in the Six, or so I was inclined.
You know that drinker's
Angle, elbow-propped, knuckled to his brow like one
Of the Great Thinkers?


He's staring at my neck in the Power's mirror,
Debating whether
He should open up a lexicon with me: the price of
Beer, of steers, the weather.


At last we talk in code. We stumble on the border.
He is pro. I am con.
We are arm in arm; inextricably, we wade into the
Rubicon




The next poem has rather more personal connotations:


The Fetch


I woke. You were lying beside me in the double bed,
prone, your long dark hair fanned out over the downy pillow.

I’d been dreaming we stood on a beach an ocean away
watching the waves purl into their troughs and tumble over.

Knit one, purl two, you said. Something in your voice made me think
of women knitting by the guillotine. Your eyes met mine.

The fetch of a wave is the distance it travels, you said,
from where it is born at sea to where it founders to shore.

I must go back to where it all began. You waded in
thigh-deep, waist-deep, breast-deep, head-deep, until you disappeared.

I lay there and thought how glad I was to find you again.
You stirred in the bed and moaned something. I heard a footfall

on the landing, the rasp of a man’s cough. He put his head
around the door. He had my face. I woke. You were not there.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Maquis

“We are solitary. We can delude ourselves about this and act as if it were not true. That is all.” 
- Rilke


I probably should have entitled this post 'Boardgames for One 3' because I have acquired another solo boardgame. As an indication of how often I play these, none at all have hit the table since I last posted on the subject. Still, when does noes not playing with things ever stop a wargamer buying more of them?




Maquis has, as the name would suggest, a WWII French resistance theme wherein the player tries to complete two missions in the face of random Milice patrols. These require a mix of scarce resources plus control of a path back to the safe house. Recruiting and deploying more resistance fighters will bring an increase in patrols, but you might need to because arrests are inevitable; or at least they have been while I have been running the show. You have fifteen days to complete both the missions, unless either all your fighters get captured first or your morale breaks.


"Listen very carefully, for I shall play this only once!"

It's one of those irritating games that gets under one's skin, because it seems that only one more go and you'll have it cracked, but the next pair of missions are always just too difficult (or, to be specific, the combination of the next two missions; I've just had one mission to shoot all the Milice coupled with one that says I can't shoot any of them until I've poisoned their dogs first). Whether it ever gets taken out and played again once I've put it away I don't know, but I'm certainly getting my money's worth for now.