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


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


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.