Monday, 15 July 2019

...and feed with the rich

I am in that there London, as it officially known in the North of England. I was treated by one of the big accountancy firms to a very nice lunch not far from Dr Johnson's house, and here, in lieu of anything more interesting to say about it all, is the view from the room we ate in:




"A man seldom thinks with more earnestness than he does of his dinner." - Dr Johnson




Saturday, 13 July 2019

Hatt' ich auch recht hübsch Plaisir!

"That's one trouble with dual identities, Robin. Dual responsibilities." - Batman (*)




And so to the opera. I have returned to Leeds from Derbyshire, but an opera buff never tires of his opera bouff. So, another day, another operetta; this time 'Die Fledermaus'. Set in the roaring twenties with one slightly odd costume nod to the Ladyboys of Bangkok (in an interesting casting choice Prince Orlofsky was played by a man rather than a mezzo en travesti), it was good stuff and the singing in particular rather put the previous day's Offenbach in the shade.

I could personally live without the drunken antics of Frosch (although I would really like to have seen Frankie Howerd's take on it for the ENO) and I do hope that the actor involved really is Scottish otherwise there were some quite unpleasant racial stereotypes being displayed. But the staging was imaginative, the acting and singing was very good, and the dancing made me think that perhaps I'm not too bad on my feet after all. 


(*) The Adam West one obviously.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Aristaeus, ce n'est plus moi

And so to the opera. I have been to see Opera Della Luna's take on 'Orpheus in the Underworld'. Unlike the last time I saw it they actually set it on Mount Olympus, and the cast looked every inch like Greek gods:


Their version contains several heavy sideswipes at the Arts Council, and one does not need to check their website to work out that they don't get any funding from that body. If one does however visit the website you will see a quote by opera critic Rupert Christiansen displayed in which he says that operetta isn't funded because it appeals to middle class audiences. Ignoring for a moment the heavily subsidised Opera North's recent 'Merry Widow' I would also point to the fact that the group I was with on this occasion were pretty much all white, middle class and elderly, and far from loving the piece a large proportion of them hated it with a vengeance. I didn't think it was too bad myself - although the singing was nothing to, er, sing about - and the idea of David Cameron doomed to forever act as Pluto's butler for calling the EU referendum rather amused me. I also very much enjoyed the Galop Infernal being performed by skeletons; oh, and the dancing sheep were good.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

She turns me on, don't get me wrong


“He who has lived and thought can't help
despising people in his soul;
him who has felt disturbs 
the ghost of irrecoverable days;
for him there are no more enchantments;
him does the snake of memories, 
him does repentance bite.” 

- Alexander Pushkin


And so to the opera. I have been to see a production of 'Eugene Onegin' that was in complete contrast to the previous time I had seen it. Where that had been set on a domestic and familiar scale this had all the opulence of late Imperial Russia, just before they all got their just desserts. It is of course a wonderful piece of late-Romantic music and it got the full treatment from the Northern Chamber Orchestra, the principals and the chorus. I'm going to single out Joshua Bloom's Prince Gremin for special praise although they were all good. What really impressed me was the lighting design which made extensive use of reflection and, particularly, silhouette. All in all it was easy to see why no budget had been left over for the staging of the Caldara piece I mentioned yesterday.




I have to mention however that the behaviour of Onegin and Lensky is no more admirable or sensible when played out among the upper classes of St Petersburg than it is when set amongst the youth of North London. And I've always wondered why when Tatyana is rejecting Onegin in the final act she never mentions the impact his actions must have had on the life of her sister Olga. She is, sadly, no less selfish than the men.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Quinto McFabio

And so to the opera. Your bloggist is in the Peak District for a spot of walking and opera going and has been to see 'Lucio Papirio Dittatore' by Antonio Caldara. Don't waste any time searching your memories for when you last saw it because this was the very first performance for three hundred years. I rather enjoyed it, and who's to say that I wouldn't have enjoyed it at least as much had it been two thirds the length; in other words, it went on a bit. Baroque composers seem to have collectively taken the view that if a thing was worth saying then it was worth saying seven or eight times.



The director had a difficult task, after all what is there left to say about the Second Samnite War that hasn't been said already? Especially on a very low budget for scenery and props. For reasons that probably made sense to him everything was wrapped in the style of Christo and costumes ranged from basically none, through anachronistic Imperial armour to Quintus Fabius in what appeared to be a kilt. Quintus and his father were both countertenors (the former being the pick of the cast) and Cominio was a soprano in a trouser role, except that this being Ancient Rome she didn't actually wear any trousers. The music and singing were excellent and Buxton Opera House is lovely, but it did all rather reinforce the truism that sometimes less is more.




I know you all like a wargaming connection, and in this case (assuming the Samnites were insufficient) it is provided by Caldara's patron the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI. He of course was basically responsible for both the War of the Spanish Succession and the War of the Austrian Succession, fought various other unsuccessful wars against enemies such as the Ottomans and bankrupted his country but that aside wasn't a particularly bad man. In his capacity as patron of the arts he gets a ten minute encomium at the end of the opera, which was performed in full on the night. This was not only rather unnecessary (he's been dead since 1740), but must have been very confusing to anyone who hadn't attended the pre-show talk by the musical director and wasn't expecting it.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

I'll be bum-swizzled





Jon Pertwee would have been 100 today. He was of course the Third Doctor, Wurzel Gummidge and Chief Petty Officer Pertwee, but was also well known to some us as the owner of a takeaway burger bar near Acton Town tube station around 1980.

This is the station, not the burger bar

My own doctor was the original, i.e. William Hartnell, and to be honest I had slightly lost interest by Pertwee's time. I can however recall being bemused as to why a Brigadier appeared to be in charge of a single rifle section, but given the size of the British army now it appears just to have been a case of the scriptwriters of a science-fiction series accurately predicting the future.




I was never a big Wurzel Gummidge fan, but it also starred Leeds born actor Geoffrey Bayldon, better known as Catweazle, which programme was much more to my taste. To complete the circle a little, Alan Rowe, Bayldon's life partner, appeared in Dr Who opposite Pertwee, and indeed opposite Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker too.


Friday, 5 July 2019

Hello Stranger

“There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony. There is time for work. And time for love. That leaves no other time.”  - Coco Chanel


And exactly as she describes, I have been hard at it; too much so to do any posting here. However, for one night only, I'm back.


Anyway, as previously predicted, wargaming has returned to Lower Wharfedale, both in its epicentre - the Legendary Wargames Room of James 'Olicanalad' Roach - and also in the annexe. Dealing with the latter first I had another game of C&C Napoleonics with the local chap I met a couple of months ago, this time with the more advanced rules. Once again it went very well and he enjoyed it. 



The above is the only photo  required because we both became obsessed with holding the town and every other one just shows different units in it. We had to break off with it all fairly even because I needed to leave to see a stage version of Ben Hur. We may return to finish it off at a later date and indeed I may also return to posting on the subject of the play. For now I will simply say that both the galley battle and the chariot racing were surprisingly well done considering that they only had a cast of four.

James has written on his first game of Lasalle here and you will immediately note my absence as I was, somewhat bizarrely, at a Nuclear Innovation conference. I shall also sadly miss next week because I am going, somewhat less bizarrely, to the Buxton Opera Festival. If you've read James' blog then you know as much as I do about it, but I must say that I was shocked, shocked!, to discover that he has been tinkering with the rules already.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Many Happy Returns

It's been a while since we had a random music video, and this one is especially for anyone reading whose birthday it is today.



It's also been a while since we've had any wargaming and there may be some of that along shortly as well.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Elvis has left the khazi

So, I was in a small, rather attractive market town in Warwickshire and decided, as one would, to go for a curry. The entrance to the first place that I came across was up some stairs that took me past the door to the gents and just as I reached it Elvis Presley stepped out wearing his full Las Vegas stage suit. Obviously I was somewhat surprised, after all everyone knows his food of choice was peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

Anyway, I couldn't get a seat because the place was packed for what was presumably some sort of secret comeback gig - and I must say he looked good for a man in his eighties - so I strolled off in search of another Indian restaurant. (For the benefit of colonial readers any British town of, as in this case, around 6,000 residents will have three Indian restaurants). On my way back an hour or so later - Onion Bhaji followed by Subz Ghost - I heard him singing. He didn't sound anything at all like this:



Saturday, 22 June 2019

Don't mistake activity with achievement

"I always arrive late at the office, but I make up for it by leaving early." - Charles Lamb

I'm just popping back in to point out that this work lark is all a bit inconvenient. Still, what I am doing has a moderate Secret Squirrel element which always adds an exotic air. On top of which from where I am hot-desking I can see a chap in a white lab coat performing experiments with various pieces of apparatus, thus confirming that I am indeed at the cutting edge of science and technology. He hasn't yet held a test-tube or beaker up to the light to examine its contents, but it can only be a matter of time.




It has however given me a chance to visit the RSC again, although once again not to see any Shakespeare. Instead I saw Thomas Otway's 1682 play 'Venice Preserved'. This was written not long after women had replaced boys in playing female roles and the programme points out that playwrights had just begun to create parts to specifically address this. One change that they hadn't made from Elizabethan and Jacobean times was leaving anyone still alive at the end. As we rose to go for the traditional interval ice cream I heard a man behind me say "It won't end well", and he wasn't wrong.





  

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Batting on

"Working people have a lot of bad habits, but the worst of these is work." - Clarence Darrow


I have come out of retirement again, most definitely for the final time, and in theory therefore there should be less time for wargaming. However, it's only part time and a spate of heavy rain here whilst there was no rain where the Cricket World Cup was taking place led to me getting the brushes out for the first time in some months. Already half complete was a unit of WWI British cavalry in both mounted and dismounted form and so I finished them off.




As I may have mentioned previously I managed to lose one of the dismounted figures somewhere between the washing and mounting for painting phases. I had hoped that during the long pause he would have made his way back to his comrades like in the scene from the first Toy Story movie, but sadly his desertion seems permanent. The horse holder is intended as a marker to highlight that these are dismounted cavalry.



I also set up in the annexe the Möckern scenario for Epic C&C, last played a couple of years ago (photos here and here).



I think the current set-up looks better for having lost all the bits of coloured felt, although if you look closely you'll still be able to see a small piece marking the ford across the Elster.




This particular battle gives me a chance to put some of my Polish troops on the table. If you have clicked on the link above you'll have seen an almost identical photo.




And a reminder of what the letters mean; the numbers are strength remaining.




The maps just visible on the pegboard to the right are from the not very ongoing Seven Years War campaign.


Friday, 7 June 2019

The Night Tripper

So, farewell then Dr John.




Here's Aretha with one of his songs:





And here, not for the first time on this blog, is the song that first made me aware of Mac Rebennack all those years ago; it's very long, but then again you can never have too much Steve Marriot:





Wednesday, 5 June 2019

The Splitters Split

Reg: "We're the People's Front of Judea!"

Loretta: "Oh, I thought we were the Popular Front."

Reg: "People's Front!"

Loretta: "Whatever happened to the Popular Front?"

Reg: "He's over there."




My sources point to one possible reason for the Tigger's problems. Notwithstanding the succession of ex-Tory females paraded as their leader over the last couple of months it appears that both Chuka Umunna and Chris Leslie thought that the long term solution was an ex-Labour man; in fact each of them thought that it should be him.

Let's end with a quote from Harold Pinter which is relevant not just to the Keystone Cops of British politics, but also to the tangerine sleazebag currently polluting the air over here:

“The majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lies. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.” 


Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Mary, Don't You Weep

I have been to see 'Amazing Grace', the documentary of Aretha Franklin recording a live gospel album in January 1972. It's every bit as good as all the reviews say. Mind you, I wouldn't believe everything you read. Mick Jagger is in the second night audience and I saw one critic claim that this was a direct influence on 'Exile on Main Street'. Maybe, maybe not. The fact that the Stones' masterpiece had already been recorded by then would suggest the latter to me. One thing very noticeable to your bloggist was that everyone is clapping in time; look and learn British audiences, look and learn.




I also went to see 'Booksmart', the first hour of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I then suddenly felt rather nauseated. It got worse and, having visions of being Uncle Dick all over the people in the row in front, I made a hurried exit.

So, one film strongly recommended and one recommended with the caveat that I never saw the second half.

Friday, 31 May 2019

Milli Verdilli

And so to the opera. I have been to see Opera North's semi-staged concert version of 'Aida', a rather different experience to the last time that I saw it. As opposed to hordes of non singing extras dressed as Ancient Egyptians this had only the main cast and chorus in modern dress. The Egyptian king and priests were in business suits, Amneris in designer dresses, while Radames was in generic Middle Eastern militia chic. For the Ethiopians Aida herself was dressed in the most unflattering cargo trouser/t-shirt combination and bizarrely her father appeared to be done up as a Mexican peon. Musically it was naturally first class, with mezzo Alessandra Volpe as Princess Amneris being especially good.



Tenor Rafael Rojas never had a chance to shine vocally because he had lost his voice and was unable to sing. This led to something I had never seen before. Luis Chapa was flown in to substitute - and the fact that singers are able to do so at a moment's notice is astonishing to me - but Rojas 'walked' the part i.e. acted it out while the sound came from elsewhere. It all worked well enough as long as one didn't look at his face; lip-synching obviously doesn't yet feature in an opera singer's training.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Grossbeeren

In an unexpected turn of events we switch abruptly from politics to wargaming.




Or perhaps not that abruptly. The recent election required me to drop my usual - and natural - curmudgeonly persona and actually talk to people. In conversation I discovered that one of my fellow candidates was a wargamer and so invited him round for a game.




He is apparently a competition wargamer, playing 15mm Ancients with some form of DBA; I've never played any of that family of rules so I'm afraid I can't be more specific. I had suggested C&C Napoleonics and thought it best to start a newcomer to the game with the original card deck and size of playing surface. I therefore set up the Grossbeeren scenario, which as I had all the stuff printed off and to hand I must have played at some point before. Note that the bits of coloured felt previously used to denote different terrain types have been upgraded to something more aesthetically pleasing; and not before time.


The French capture the town

My guest played the French and I took the Prussians. He managed to deploy his troops away from the baseline much more quickly than me and it didn't look to good for Blucher after an hour or so. It took him a while to adjust to not being able to shoot everything every turn, but for a complete novice he was making fairly shrewd card selections. But then I embarked on a run of good fortune with the dice which would have embarrassed even James, who is notoriously lucky at C&C. In the end it was a comfortable win for the boys in dark blue.


But not for long

The game was well received and hopefully we shall fit in another in the not too distant future, probably using the rules in expansions 5 and 6.



Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Alastair Campbell

"A man must be excessively stupid, as well as uncharitable, who believes there is no virtue but on his own side." - Joseph Addison


I know how much you all like posts about the internal politics of the Labour party, so here's another one. I need to write this now because it will only be pertinent whilst Alastair Campbell remains expelled, and I confidently expect that decision to be overturned quite quickly.

I don't have much time for Campbell, author of the 'dodgy dossier' and key player in the takeover of the party twenty five years ago by the carpetbaggers of Blairism. However, the decision to expel him is hypocritical, biased and completely self-defeating. His decision to vote Lib Dem in the recent European elections was entirely sensible; indeed I did the same myself.

Regardless of what it should nominally have been about that election clearly boiled down to a straight binary choice. The Labour Party's policy was (and is) such a complete bag of shit that it amounted to a wasted vote whatever one's views. If one wished to support remain one had to vote for one of the parties which unambiguously supported it. Clearly I was never going to vote for Chris Leslie and the splitters and I chose LibDem rather than Green because I judged that they would be the closest challengers to the Faragistes.

It was the first time I had ever voted for anyone other than Labour in my life, I do not regret it, I shall not keep it a secret, and I would have done either if it had resulted in my own expulsion, which of course it won't.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Proverbs Chapter 24 Verse 27







"Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him." 
                               
                                                

Thursday, 23 May 2019

The biter bit

Apropos of nothing, here is some Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown:



Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Pot85pouri

There are various reasons for my continued absence from regular posting, one being that the sun is shining and in Yorkshire one is never too sure for how long that will continue so there is a big incentive to make the most of it. One other reason is that there is absolutely no wargaming going on at all; I'm not sure why, but no doubt it will kick back in eventually.

In other news I have an update on search terms that have led people to the blog. I am pleased to say that we have had a visitor searching for 'Swedish Women's Volleyball Team'. Someone after my own heart obviously. Mention of athletic young women reminds me that it was the 210th Otley show last weekend. I have no photographs of the Young Farmers Ladies Tug-of-War, but I do have one of a giant tortoise.



I have been questioned as to whether I did anything even vaguely Shakespeare related while I was in Stratford-upon-Avon. Well, I went on the tourist bus round all the sights, but my memory of it is somewhat overshadowed by my having foolishly chosen to sit on the open top deck despite the unsuitable weather and ending up blue and shivering; you will understand why we lap up the sun when it does appear. I had the option of seeing 'The Taming of the Shrew', but to be honest I don't really like it very much. The elder Miss Epictetus and I did see the RSC's 'Romeo and Juliet' earlier in the year and found it to be very average. For the record I have also seen 'Antony and Cleopatra', 'Richard II', 'Hamlet', 'As You Like It' and 'Much Ado About Nothing' so far this year, so one more wasn't going to make much difference. The pick of those was Tessa Parr's female Hamlet, but I must mention Conrad Nelson's excellent farewell directorial effort for Northern Broadsides 'Much Ado About Nothing'. Set in WWII in what appeared to be the Kent of the Battle of Britain it featured all the trademark music and dancing we have come to expect. I do hope that the new regime doesn't change things too much.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

The Provoked Wife

"Why, what did I vow? I think I promis'd to be true to my husband.
  Well; and he promis'd to be kind to me.
  But he hasn't kept his word.
  Why then I'm absolved from mine... ay, that seems clear to me."

                                       - Lady Brute


And so to the theatre. I have been to Stratford-upon-Avon, a trip that was actually motivated by nuclear physics and corporate finance rather than by Shakespeare. However, I took time out to visit the Royal Shakespeare Company's Swan Theatre for the first time. I was suitably impressed both by the building and by the play, Vanburgh's 'The Provoked Wife'. The piece was pitched in the publicity as being a Restoration romp, but the comedy is very much underpinned with misery and sadness.



As my trip was arranged at short notice I knew nothing of the cast and was somewhat surprised to see familiar faces: Caroline Quentin and Rufus Hound, both of whom were excellent, as well as Les Dennis, who was woefully underused. I saw him in Priestley's 'When We Are Married' some years ago so I know that he can act, but here he was more like a stage hand in a wig. Anyway, I both laughed a lot and also found myself wishing that it had been at least half an hour shorter. A final word on Sir John Vanburgh, one of those intensely annoying people who are multi-talented. After writing this play and 'The Relapse', both of which were very successful, he gave up the theatre, took up architecture and designed both Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace, both of which are very beautiful. He was also Clarenceux King of Arms for twenty years or so. As I say, very annoying.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Boardgames for one 2

My previous post about solo boardgames only got one comment and that was negative, which is easily a sufficiently enthusiastic response for me to quickly return to the subject. I do so because I have subsequently remembered that I own a further two games of the type. I can understand why I chose to forget the first, 'Field Commander: Napoleon', because I paid quite a lot of money for it and have hardly ever played it. Indeed I've never got past the opening moves of the 1796 campaign before returning it to the "life's too short" pile. The only solo games that get played in the Casa Epictetus - and then not very often - are of the fifteen minute variety.



I have been slowly reading through the short stories of Somerset Maugham (highly recommended) and his characters are occasionally prone to whiling away long boat journeys with a game or several of Patience (Solitaire to anyone speaking American English), and it's that niche that these games seek to fill. Indeed the second game which I have recalled owning, 'Friday', definitely shows itself to be a derivation of Patience: you lay out a tableau of cards and cycle through the pack (actually packs in this case) trying to succeed before some end criterion is triggered. In the game one plays the part of Friday attempting to help Robinson Crusoe to fight off his enemies. It's rather hard to win and I haven't ever done better than losing to the first pirate crew. One reason for its difficulty is that Crusoe is remarkably stupid at the start, and needs an awful lot of assistance from his sidekick to get up to anything like the skill level required for life on a island full of wild animals, cannibals and pirates.




It's been a timely rediscovery because, as you may know, it is the 300th anniversary of the publication of Defoe's novel. Reappraisals of the book in honour of its tercentenary have generally been more favourable to its legacy (including the cartoon trope which became so ubiquitous that the New Yorker banned it) than to its intrinsic value.



One article that I read recently described Crusoe as a 'callow dullard', so full marks to the designer for thematic accuracy. Karl Marx, in Das Kapital, uses the castaway's period of isolation as an example of some sort of economic Garden of Eden, and rather surprisingly to modern eyes chooses to ignore his previous history as a slave owner and trader. Marx is, however, very complimentary about the fact that almost the first thing that Robinson (whom the philosopher refers to throughout by his first name in a very un-German manner) does following the shipwreck is to start keeping accounts, like 'a true-born Briton'. It is strangely comforting to find that in the view of the founder of Communism those apparently best suited to the isolation of a desert island are dull British accountants.









Friday, 3 May 2019

The people have spoken, the bastards


"All political careers end in failure" - Enoch Powell

My own political career started in failure and has stayed there. I have lost again. I have never won in any election from standing for the Student Union Executive at university in 1975 until today. Well until yesterday, but you know what I mean. To be honest I never had any hope of winning on this occasion, but democracy involves offering the people a choice and so I did. It wasn't a choice they wanted, but I offered it to them regardless.

It did have its interesting moments though. One of my opponents mentioned in conversation that the actor John Rhys-Davies (known best perhaps as Gimli) had been on 'Question Time' last week where he discussed Kenneth Arrow and his Impossibility Theorem. Perhaps the son of Gloin is a reader of the blog - many well-known actors have of course been wargamers - although given his unpleasant political views I sincerely hope not. In any event, you heard about it - Kenneth Arrow that is - here first.

Our Luxembourg correspondent may by now be thinking to himself "But weren't you on Union Council? Didn't you have to get elected to that?". My reply is to claim that I was elected unopposed and challenge anyone to prove otherwise given the intervening forty five years or so. One of my fellow representatives on Council from the Board of Studies in Physical Sciences was rather more successful than me yesterday and was elected as an independent to East Staffordshire Council. I'm slightly tempted to view it either as a pity vote because he put his full middle name on the ballot paper or perhaps a plea not to pull any more stunts like his 'running every street in the ward' from last year's by-election. (As an aside that by-election was caused when the chap elected in the first place as a Conservative immediately resigned because to his surprise none of his friends would talk to him any more.) Anyway, congratulations to Graham 'H' Lamb for winning a seat in a safe Tory ward despite his politics being anything but, and best wishes for the next four years.





Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Boardgames for one

When I post about boardgames played I rarely mention solo games. That is mainly, and unsurprisingly, because I don't often play them. However I have recently acquired another one, which in turn made me dig out the couple that I already own and play them again. I'm not talking about playing multi-player games solo, nor co-operative games alone; what I am referring to are games specifically designed for only one, single, sad, Billy No-mates such as myself.




The one I have owned the longest (and previously wrote about here) is 'A Blood-Red Banner', in which one has to attempt to defend the Alamo against Santa Anna. Naturally this always results in failure and the measure of success is how badly one fails. While I know that it's thematically appropriate it really does get depressing after a couple of plays. There is a game from the same publishers about Rorke's Drift which I'd like to try, but wonder if it has the same problem in reverse. Production values - at least in the version I own - are a bit cheap and cheerful and the AI is nothing more than a D6 and a deck of pre-printed cards which march the Mexicans up to the walls and invariably, following a very simple combat resolution mechanism, inside.



The second game, Hostage Negotiator, at least gives some chance of succeeding in one's task, although as victory can be obtained even if half of the hostages die success is a bit relative. Once again the AI is cards and a few D6, but the designer has done an excellent job of replicating the paradox and tension of simultaneously trying to keep the hostage holder calm whilst at the same time rescuing those he is holding before time runs out. Play takes the form of a series of conversations during which cards are played both to achieve results now and to set up favourable conditions for future actions. A random selection of demands, threats and events gives it high replayability. There are expansions with extra bad guys etc, but I play it so infrequently that I have always found the three in the starter pack to be sufficient.




The new game I have acquired is 'Black Sonata', in which one wanders around Elizabethan London trying to establish the identity of the dark lady of Shakespeare's Sonnets. It features a very clever mechanism by which the lady herself moves. I'm always on the lookout for ideas that could be utilised for wargaming and this caught my eye immediately as a means of replicating hidden movement in campaigns or even on the tabletop. It doesn't merit the description of AI; rather it seems to be more of a random selection from among a series of pre-programmed routes, with a reset mechanism if you get close, but not close enough. The deduction puzzle at the heart of the game isn't so sophisticated and I can't help thinking that the movement mechanism deserves a better game to go with it. Certainly I have never failed to solve it quite quickly, although one has still to catch the lady even then.

Anyway, all three - when one remembers one owns them - provide a pleasant distraction for fifteen or twenty minutes and I shall endeavour to get them on the table more frequently. In the meantime here's Karen:



Thursday, 25 April 2019

Edgcote 1469

I have been reading 'The Battle of Edgecote 1469' by Graham Evans, who you may be familiar with as the man behind 'Wargaming for Grown-ups', on which he features a whole range of stuff, from Ancient Assyrians (with plenty of chariots) right through to the Spanish Civil War. He makes wide use of 20mm plastic in his games, which is obviously a good thing. He is the secretary of the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society and they are the publishers of this book. You may have possibly, as I have a couple of times, had a go at his clever participation game of the Battle of Northampton which he regularly takes to conventions. And on top of all that he rocks the bald head and glasses look, which I always think is de rigeur for a distinguished wargames blogger.

The book is subtitled 'Re-evaluating the evidence' and that's what he does, explaining how he comes to his conclusions and how much conjecture is involved. He also reproduces a fair number of his sources including some fifteenth century Welsh poetry. As with pretty much all Wars of the Roses battles there is uncertainty about where it was fought and why some of those in the vicinity took themselves off rather than join in as they were expected to, and the author's conclusions are persuasively argued. He also clears up an issue that I previously had no idea was even up for debate, namely the date the battle took place. He makes a good case that it was on the 24th July, two days earlier than traditionally believed, and driven by the new chronology puts forward a plausible narrative for the period either side: from the skirmish as the vanguards met until Edward IV was arrested in his bed by the Archbishop of York. I think it's fair to say that he is agnostic as to the identity of Robin of Redesdale, the leader - assuming he existed in the first place - of the rebel forces on the day. I rather liked the option he explores of it being a sort of pseudonym for the collective leadership; reminiscent of the P O'Neill who always communicated on behalf of the Provisional IRA.

Anyone who has read his blog will know, Evans has a minor bee in his bonnet about the Battle of Towton not having been the largest and bloodiest battle in England after all, and he manages to inveigle that in here as well. However, unless one is strongly invested in the generally accepted view I don't think it makes much difference and I certainly agree with his overall point that these battles really cannot have involved as many men on either side as the chroniclers suggest. To quote from the book: "The willingness to accept that armies larger than the population of London marched and fought in a small area of the East Midlands should give us all pause for thought.".

Overall, it's an interesting and enlightening read which I thoroughly recommend to those keen on the period. Edgcote may well be creeping up the list of games to be played in the annexe. Most importantly I have just the figure to represent the Barmaid of Banbury:



If you want to know what role - or indeed roll - the barmaid performed then you'll need to read the book yourself, although here's a clue:

Arglwfdd difwynswydd Defnsir
A ffoes - ni chafas oes hir!

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

I'm working like a Trojan

Although clearly not at writing blog posts. Partly that is because the Seven Years War campaign is not currently happening  - not dead, just sleeping - and also I have been, in a small way, engaged in trying to prove that democracy in this country is likewise merely resting with its eyes closed rather than completely moribund.

Indeed, the only thing that has appeared on here recently is a comment from Iain that 'Arms and the Man' was also set in the Balkans. I haven't seen the play for many years; in fact the more I think about it the more it seems to me that I am confusing it with 'Man and Superman' and that I have probably never seen it at all. Shaw's plays do still get produced these days - I have seen both 'Pygmalion' and 'Saint Joan' in the last couple of years - so let's hope it comes round soon.

There are a couple of tenuous connections (and you know that's the way I like them) between the play and the specific opera concerned (which was 'Idomeneo'), with a second opera as well plus a tiny, tiny bit of wargaming relevance. The phrase 'arms and the man' comes from the opening line of the Aeniad, Virgil's poem in which a member of the Trojan royal family sails off after the fall of the city to follow his fate by indirectly both founding Rome and causing the Punic Wars to take place. In Mozart's opera it is another Trojan, Aeneas' cousin Ilia, daughter of King Priam, who, having been brought back as a captive to Crete by Idomeneo, provides the romantic sub plot and causes Elettra, daughter of Agamemnon,  no end of grief; although as I pointed out previously her family have already done more than enough to tip anyone over the edge.

Kurt Weill wrote an opera called 'Der Kuhhandel'. A literal translation of that is 'cattle trading', but a more idiomatic one might be 'horse trading', e.g. of the kind that politicians are prone to. Anyway, the plot about arms dealing actually does prominently feature a cow. Its original English title was 'A Kingdom for a Cow', which is, of course, a Shakespearean allusion. Opera North performed it some years ago, but changed the title to 'Arms and the Cow', a Shavian reference which rather nicely sums up what the work is all about. At the time I rather annoyed my ex-wife by going on at length about how accurate was its depiction of the world of weapon sales based on my own experiences of the same; but let's face it, if I hadn't been that which irritated her then it would have been something else.

Enough of that, let's have Dido's Lament:



Sunday, 14 April 2019

Lamentations Chapter 5 Verse 6

And so to the opera. I thought I was done with the Great War now that it's 2019, but I have been to see a production of Vaughan Williams' 'Pilgrim's Progress' which is set on the Western Front and will admit that even though they had missed the centenary boat it all worked very well. In particular I must mention the use of No Man's Land to represent the Valley of Humiliation, with the unburied dead of both sides rising up as the Doleful Creatures. Appolyon, whose part is sung from the wings, was manifested on stage as coils of barbed wire which pursued and hemmed in our pilgrim until he overcame them. By the time he got to Vanity Fair the theme had become less specific, although in my experience the Madam Wantons of this world look and behave the same whatever the setting.

Opera directors presumably choose the setting for the same reason they make all the other decisions: in order to make themselves seem interesting, intellectual and sophisticated. That's not a criticism - if it were your bloggist would be setting himself up for some finger pointing in return - but it does lead to to some slightly strained designs. If there was an award for the most obscure setting then English Touring Opera's 'Idomeneo' might be in with a shout; it's the Balkan Wars of the first decade of the twentieth century. Now we're all wargamers so we've heard of the period, indeed we probably have a half-formed plan in the back of our mind to game it at some indeterminate point in the future, but I not sure how many others in the audience had any real idea as to where and when we were supposed to be. The costumes weren't much help to them being mainly sheepskin waistcoats and baggy trousers - except for the soprano playing Idamante, who looked as if she was playing Buttons in Cinderella - and if they had guessed it they might then have been thrown off track by the sea monster which rather abruptly invades the land and starts eating people. Unusually for an opera these minions are the only ones to die, with the principal characters surviving more or less intact. Elettra goes mad of course, but when you consider that her backstory includes her father killing her sister, her mother killing her father and her brother killing her mother and then himself, then you might think that she's entitled to.

One means of identifying the period being portrayed is by the weapons in use. In 'Pilgrim's Progress' they had Lee Enfields (Germans as well, but let's not quibble), in 'Idomeneo' they didn't bother (probably wouldn't have been much use against the sea monster anyway) and in Macbeth most of them had AK47s, so presumably modern then. Having said that, one poor sap had been lumbered with what appeared to be a fowling piece, one of those that are about eight feet long and intended to be fired whilst lying in a punt hidden among the rushes; I freely admit that the only reason I recognised it was because they have one on display in the Royal Armouries in Leeds. Now no actor carrying a rifle on stage ever appears to have handled one in real life, but on this occasion I think we can cut him some slack, and his constant tripping over it did at least provide some amusement in what is otherwise not a light-hearted piece. Observant readers may be asking themselves whether I didn't see this opera recently, and I did indeed, just a couple of months ago. In that production - as described here - there was a mishap during the fight between Macduff and Macbeth. Well blow me down, but there was a similar incident this time round at exactly the same place. Notwithstanding the fact that everyone has spent the last two hours cradling Kalashnikovs while singing, these two decided to use knives when they came face to face with each other. What was obviously meant to happen was that after dispatching the king Macduff was supposed to bend down, take the crown from his head and carry it to Malcolm, rightful heir of Duncan. What actually happened was that he dispatched him so violently that the crown flew off and rolled across the stage into the orchestra pit and Macduff had to sing his final lines hanging off the edge being handed it back by one of the orchestra. Still, as before, they played on.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Time is, time was...


Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.

              - T.S. Eliot

Thursday, 4 April 2019

625

Does anyone remember the old boardgame L'Attaque? Charlie - my old schoolmate, wargames opponent and colleague in the worst band ever - used to have a copy which I can remember us playing avidly in our early teens. Boardgamegeek describes it thus: "The game is played with 36 pieces each on a 9 x 10 square board. Each piece has a numeric value, which is hidden from the opponent and only revealed when an attacking piece moves onto a square occupied by an opponent's piece. In most cases, the piece with the highest value wins and the losing piece is removed from the board."

In other news, the Seven Years War campaign continued with Frederick, who seems to be doing all the fighting for the Prussians, catching the Russian contingent of the allies under Fermor as they tried to cross the border. Unsurprisingly the much bigger and better army carried the day, not helped by the initiative swing being completely the reverse of what had happened the previous week. The fact that chance evens out over the long run doesn't do much to ameliorate the impact on one's entertainment of its short term fluctuations.

I haven't yet received the umpire's report for the end of Turn 3, so I'm not entirely sure how things stand, but my guess would be fairly even. If I have a small army being beaten up in one place then I must have larger armies on the move somewhere else.

Friday, 29 March 2019

I'll thcream and thcream until I'm thick; I can you know.

Many of you will be familiar with William Brown, the perennial eleven year old. Richmal Crompton wrote once of his attitude to school: 

"He disliked facts, and he disliked being tied down to detail, and he disliked answering questions. As a politician a great future would have lain before him." 

She wrote that in 1922; some things never change.


Thursday, 28 March 2019

361

The Seven Years War campaign has moved forwards in fits and starts over the last week or so, but the core mechanics seem to be holding up, and in one or two peripheral areas where they didn't we have quickly reached consensus about what to do. Wargames campaigns have to serve two purposes: they have to be entertaining in their own right and, even more importantly, they have to generate table top battles. These two elements aren't always compatible because, as in real life, one basically doesn't want to fight a battle unless one has a pretty good chance of winning, and that doesn't always result in much of a game. Indeed during the last campaign we had to develop pretty strict rules about how quickly one was allowed to voluntarily withdraw from the table and at what cost. It was a pleasant surprise therefore that the first battle of the campaign turned out to involve two reasonably matched forces. The slightly smaller Prussian army was attacking the Austrians. This isn't as odd as it sounds because the Prussians are somewhat better in terms of what their deck (remember Piquet is a card driven game) allows them to do. So, how did it turn out?

Piquet has a system for rating units that is flexible within certain parameters. On the night the Prussian turned out to be fairly average for them, whereas the Austrians turned out to be pretty damned good, which was slightly worrying for the Prussians. These had six turns to drive the Austrians from the field or lose shedloads of National Will points. Initiative you will remember is determined by each side drawing a domino from a bag, with turns ending when either side finishes their deck of cards or when both sides draw the same domino, a one in twenty eight chance. On the first turn the Austrians got all the initiative, whizzed through their deck and the Prussians suffered minor damage from artillery fire and hardly moved. The second turn wasn't so one sided, but the Prussian attack still didn't really get into gear before the Austrians had once again run through their deck. The start of the third turn was better for the attackers who got a unit across each of the two bridges, but then they were both routed by musket fire and retreated to whence they had come. The only hope for them at this point was that they had drawn a 'ford' stratagem card (meant to be a secret, but rather given away by the way they had moved up to a supposedly impassable river). Would they turn their card again in time?

In a word, no. The third turn ended abruptly when identical dominoes were drawn. Then the first dominoes of the fourth turn were also the same. As were those for the fifth. And the sixth. Four draws in a row were identical (odds of 614,656 to 1) and the game was over after an hour or so, with a few casualties to the Prussians and absolutely none to the Austrians. If it had been a one off game we would have played on, but in the context of a campaign we couldn't. It certainly wasn't the fault of the way the campaign is designed, just one of those quirks of Piquet. As the Austrian commander I ended the night perhaps somewhat the better off as I am in control of the battlefield and the enemy has had to withdraw. However, I'm not sure such a good opportunity to cause damage to Frederick's forces will come round again very quickly and perhaps in the long run the sudden end to the evening will prove to have been to my detriment.


Wednesday, 27 March 2019

I informed you thusly

Your bloggist is not normally one to point out that he told you so. But can I refer you to my post of 19th November 2018, when I drew your attention to the fact that Kenneth Arrow had won a Nobel prize for proving mathematically that it was impossible to design a voting system to obtain a majority decision when faced with multiple alternatives.

What I didn't mention was that there is one exception to that rule - dictatorship.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Incommodities


Forget this rotten world, and unto thee 
Let thine own times as an old story be. 
Be not concern'd; study not why, nor when; 
Do not so much as not believe a man. 
For though to err, be worst, to try truths forth 
Is far more business than this world is worth. 

                     - from 'The Progress of the Soul' by John Donne

Friday, 22 March 2019

Pot84pouri

I had rather promised myself that I wouldn't cover this subject again, but I wanted to share something I read elsewhere, which seemed to pithily sum up where we currently stand: "The course of Britain’s politics for many years to come is going to be determined by a group of below-average politicians acting collectively in a blind panic at high speed.  That should produce good governance."





In happier news I have had a game with my recently purchased copy of "Quartermaster General: Cold War". I bought it because I felt it would be a handy standby for when the usual suspects were all available, but there was no game ready to play. 


"The lemonade tastes funny this week."

Unexpectedly this situation arose immediately, when we ran out of steam on the Great War before the new Seven Years War campaign was good to go. So the box was opened, cards were sleeved and we gave it a try. I think it went down well and it certainly served its purpose in bridging the gap. I have now played the Soviet Bloc in all three of my games of this and despite winning - by a solitary point - an definitely going to try one of the other factions next time. 





Map moves for the campaign have now started and after the first turn the Prussian public have been set all aflutter by rumours of an Austrian (or is it Russian) show of strength on the border; but are those rumours true...? In the finest traditions of wargaming in Lower Wharfedale the umpire's interpretation of things hasn't thus far been what I was expecting. Ironically, and without wishing to give too much away to my opponent, the relevant bit in the rules literally starts "to prevent any doubt". Perhaps James has missed his true calling and he should be drafting the timetable for leaving the EU.




I must also mention that I have once again been lucky enough to have seen the wonderful Wille and the Bandits (previously reviewed here), so let's end end with some music:





Tuesday, 19 March 2019

A nine bob note






"This is the devilish thing about foreign affairs: they are foreign and will not always conform to our whim." - James Reston

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Amiens - the tanks advance

We played out the Amiens scenario and the tanks did indeed advance, but quite slowly. They found hills difficult - entirely consistent with the original battle - and as the defenders kept scoring high on the countdown roll the game finished one turn before they would undoubtedly have secured victory for the British.



Neither Peter nor James seem to find it intuitive that one could lose the battle but win the game. I must admit that I don't really understand what their problem is; apart from a lot of spurious precision in the totting up of victory points there isn't anything involved that we haven't done before many times with other sets of rules. Anyway, flooding permitting, we are now going back to the legendary wargames room and the Seven Years War for a campaign of James' devising - more details at James' blog; I am commanding the Austro-Russian force - so it may be time to sum up my feelings about Square Bashing so far.

Firstly, the mechanics are straightforward enough and we got a few good games out of it. There seems to be consensus about which bits we would change. In particular ranged fire seems to involve an awful lot of dice rolls for basically no effect. That would seem to imply two alternatives so, based on a natural reluctance not to have any shooting at all, I think we will beef it up a bit. Also up for some tinkering are the pre-game asset rolls, the higher command stuff and aircraft.

More pertinently there is the question as to what it is trying to represent. It is pretty explicit that the forces are a division a side, but - in my opinion at least - divisions didn't fight like that on the Western Front; certainly not in attack. Now believe me I am firmly in the 'game' camp (as opposed to the 'simulation 'camp), but even so one of the reasons for historical wargaming in the first place is to try to reflect the realities and constraints of the time. In addition to that, the more I read I feel more strongly than ever that the best level for gaming the last year or so of the Great War is brigade. You may recall that's what I attempted when messing about with my own 'Blue Guitar' rules at the end of 2017. So, there you go, pick the bones out of that.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Punctuated Equilibrium

"There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen." - Lenin

I don't know what Lenin thought about evolution. Stalin in the other hand was very opposed to the idea of genetics on ideological grounds. Indeed in the Soviet Union of the 1930s it was said that for a child to look like its father was bad, because it showed the importance of family background, whereas to look like the man who lived next door was good, because it showed the importance of the environment in which one grew up. Lamarckism (a) - essentially the hypothesis that parents can pass on learned or acquired attributes to their offspring - was not just believed, but put into practice, adding to the country's agricultural woes.

The current most widely accepted view of evolution is Punctuated Equilibrium, which posits that evolution is not a steady, gradual process, but rather long periods of nothing changing and then periods of very rapid change following some sudden external stimulus such as meteor strikes, volcano eruptions etc. We might agree with Lenin (b) that there is some read across from biology to politics. My own working experience leads me to believe the same is true of business. 

The problem with the social sciences is that it is often very difficult to test hypotheses by experiment. The rest of the world can therefore be grateful to the UK for arranging - courtesy of the ignorance and prejudice of much of its population and the fecklessness and timidity of its political class - to shortly run an experiment in seeing how a country's economy reacts to taking a sledgehammer to its trading relationships. Will the dodo learn to fly? I have my own opinion, but we won't have long to wait to find out.


(a) For those desperately seeking some wargaming content, Lamarck served in the French army in the Seven Years War and was commissioned as a result of bravery on the battlefield,
(b) For the record, I know perfectly well that Lenin certainly didn't write that quote and almost certainly never said it either.