Friday, 23 March 2018


                     "I always want to know the things one shouldn't do."
                     "So as to do them?" asked her aunt.
                     "So as to choose." said Isabel.

                                 Henry James, Portrait of a Lady

Henry James' novella 'The Turn of the Screw' is a most ambiguous piece of work, beloved of the English Literature establishment perhaps precisely because it can be interpreted in so many different ways. Britten's operatic version, which I saw most recently last year in an excellent chamber production, leans one way by giving singing roles to both Quint and Miss Jessel, and the result is a supernatural masterpiece which leave open the possibilities that ghosts are real or alternatively that either the governess or the children are delusional. Ambiguity is retained.

I have been to see a stage adaptation which has moved quite firmly in the other direction. Here it is quite clear that the governess is suffering from a temporary, adolescent hysteria brought on by the abrupt change from sheltered family life in a parsonage to being alone in the presence of the children's uncle. The children's behaviour is no more than, well, childish behaviour (although very well acted by the adults playing them). The whole class issue of the futility of Quint, and indeed the governess, imagining that they can rise above their station, is reduced to jealousy and backbiting among servants, and, perhaps recognising that modern audiences are more broad-minded than Victorian ones, the nature of the relationship between the valet and the previous governess is portrayed explicitly and then never mentioned again. The denouement rather reminded me of Joseph Heller's 'Something Happened'.

As you can tell, I wasn't terribly enthused. I suspect many of the decisions related to a desire to limit the size of the cast - one never saw the non-speaking Quint or the non-speaking cloaked and veiled figure of Jessel on stage at the same time - and this idea of things being done to a cost leads on nicely to another possible interpretation of the piece for the world in which we currently live. This is - very aptly post-Carillion, post-Grenfel, post-Virgin East Coast, post-lots of other things - a parable about the unworkability of outsourcing. Whatever performance criteria (don't write, don't visit, don't leave the children) are defined by the client (the uncle) cannot anticipate every circumstance (ghosts, madness) and will inevitably lead to failure (I won't spoil the ending for you, but as it was turned into an opera you know what to expect).

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Playing that synecdoche just like ringing a bell

This blog has always prided itself on sticking closely to its wargaming remit, but I am supportive when my fellow bloggists diversify into other areas. So I was pleased to see Prufrock wander off topic a week or so ago and reminisce about reminiscing, using music as the model for his musings. Back in the 1970s, after I had exchanged wargaming for beer, women and revolutionary socialism, one of my pleasures in life could be summed up as sitting in the back room of a pub, glass in hand, listening to a local band (any local band) play Johnny B. Goode. ["I cannot", says the Rhetorical Pedant "forgo the chance to comment on my specialist subject, namely rhetoric. Epictetus is employing the device of synecdoche, whereby a part of something - in this case Chuck Berry's best known song - refers to the whole - in this case the style of music which, back in your bloggist's youth, was referred to as Rhythm & Blues."]

And the band had to actually play Johnny B. Goode for my happiness to be complete; however good the band, however inspired the choice of the rest of their material ["That one is anaphora"] only that song would do. Indeed one of this blog's readers may possibly recall the occasion - in Jersey of all places - where the sheer joie de vivre resulting from hearing that introductory guitar riff, coupled with several pints of Mary Jane, caused me to join the band on stage as a surprise guest vocalist and sing the first and third verses. (Even to this day I'm not entirely sure that I know all the words to the second verse).

I was reminded of all this the other day by watching a group of ridiculously youthful chaps, Red Delta by name, perform in one of the local pubs. Apart from being able to play their instruments and for the fact that the vocalist could sing in key they were very similar to the band I played in all those years ago. I acknowledge that their version of "Brown Sugar" was better than ours, although as long as you ignored the lead guitar bits our cover of "Sunshine of Your Love" was there or thereabouts; maybe. Anyway, it was all good stuff: a bit of Hendrix, some Muddy Waters, some Robert Johnson, even some Rory Gallagher; but something was missing. And then they played it.

In his second childhood your bloggist may have once again taken up playing with toy soldiers, may have been forced to give up one of the alternatives he embraced instead back then (not to mention realising that one of the others was a fantasy and a dead end), but at least one thing still connects him to his adolescence.

"Go, Johnny Go!"

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Happy Days

Readers may have wondered why there has been no mention of chimneys in the blog recently. It turns out that events at the Casa Epictetus have been a fine example of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. A bit of damp on the spare bedroom wall has become irrelevant in the light of somewhat more damp abruptly appearing elsewhere. All things considered I was slightly surprised to find that my shower has only made one previous appearance in this blog. It has, however, leaked intermittently ever since I moved in. As a consequence part of my living room ceiling will have to be taken down; to be more precise, the part of my living room ceiling that didn't fall down over the weekend will have to come down as well.

Will it ever get used again?

"Don't ever take a shower with a woman, because you'll probably end up proposing to her." 
- Scott Baio

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Met you not with my true love?

‘As you came from the holy land
Of Walsingham,
Met you not with my true love
By the way as you came?’
‘How shall I know your true love,
That have met many a one,
As I went to the holy land,
That have come, that have gone?’
‘She is neither white nor brown,
But as the heavens fair;
There is none hath a form so divine
In the earth or the air.’
‘Such an one did I meet, good sir,
Such an angelic face,
Who like a queen, like a nymph, did appear
By her gait, by her grace.’
‘She hath left me here alone,
All alone, as unknown,
Who sometime did me lead with herself,
And me loved as her own.’
‘What’s the cause that she leaves you alone,
And a new way doth take,
Who loved you once as her own,
And her joy did you make?’
‘I have loved her all my youth,
But now old, as you see,
Love likes not the falling fruit
From the withered tree.
‘Know that Love is a careless child,
And forgets promise past,
He is blind, he is deaf when he list,
And in faith never fast.
‘His desire is a dureless content
And a trustless joy;
He is won with a world of despair
And is lost with a toy.’
‘Of womenkind such indeed is the love
Or the word love abused,
Under which many childish desires
And conceits are excused.
‘But love is a durable fire,
In the mind ever burning;
Never sick, never old, never dead,
From itself never turning.’
                     - Sir Walter Raleigh

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado

I have been to see the award-winning Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado. A seven piece on the night I saw them (neither the alto sax player nor, sadly, the Tornadettes having made it to the wilds of West Yorkshire), they mostly play original material plus covers of artists such as Muddy Waters, Big Joe Williams and, less obviously, Nat King Cole. I thought they were excellent; judge for yourself:

Friday, 16 March 2018

Who exactly put those men in column?

Somewhat to my surprise the recent post with the fewest views is last week’s report on the current Seven Years War game at James’. Apart from anything else the mention of Russians usually attracts spambots in their droves. Anyway, things have moved on, mostly to the benefit of the Prussians. In the centre the bridge was completed and units moved across it, with mixed success it must be said. On the right the Prussian heavy artillery was able to wreak havoc on some rather badly placed infantry columns – the player responsible perhaps wisely choosing not to reappear this week – and to take out the Russian artillery facing them. It would seem that this is one of those games that James isn’t going to feature on his blog, so I’m afraid that’s probably the best description that you’ll get of the action.

Some readers (Hello Don) have said that the apparent constant rule changes in our games would drive them mad, but I think this game demonstrates why they are sometimes not such a bad idea. This is the only period in which the rules played are recognisably classic Piquet (although I will make a prediction here that that’s what James ends up using for the Peninsular War collection currently being painted) and the differences from the base set come from, perhaps, four directions.

Firstly, the chrome which reflects how we (i.e. James) understand warfare of the time to have been conducted. This is, of course, precisely, how Piquet was intended to be played and there are published supplements covering periods from ancients through to the 20th century. The original set is Horse and Musket, but perhaps mainly Napoleonic focused and the desire to have something more mid eighteenth century and specifically central European led to the ‘Lemon’ rules being written. Pretty much everything I know about the period comes from playing these rules, so I can shed no light at all on how successful they may or may not be in achieving this.

Secondly, there are things that just seem as if they could be improved. Changes made of this type would include playing Major Morale on the opponent rather than oneself when the card is turned and a moralechallenge only costing a morale chip when it fails, both of which, in my opinion, substantially improve things.

Thirdly, there is the influence of other rulesets. Classic Piquet was written for much smaller, shorter lasting games than those we tend to play in the legendary wargames room. Morale is lost per stand lost, and when you’re dead, you’re dead. The publishers of Piquet subsequently issued a derivative set of rules – collectively known as FoB – which among other things reduce the potential for the swings of fortune that put a lot of people off and also make multiplayer games more practical. Further changes related to loss of morale, now by unit not stand, and the introduction of the ability to rally back losses that had been taken. Both of these changes suited the longer games we played and so were adopted. We then experimented with Black Powder for a different period - the Italian wars. Black Powder allows rallying back - although it makes it bloody difficult to do in practice – but the first hit can never be recovered i.e. units can never be recovered back to full strength. We rather liked that, and so it too was adopted.

Regular readers may also recall that the definition of a flank has proved problematic. It cropped up during the very first game that I played with the Ilkley Lads – an ACW game which must have been getting on for fifteen years ago now – and it has done so pretty much ever since. I think (hope?) that we have settled on one (if the centre of your unit is behind the extended front edge of the target unit then it’s a flank), but having done so I think we are just about to transcend flanks completely. Black Powder talks in terms of ‘enfilade’ instead of ‘flank’ and because there’s a compelling logic to that it has started to make an appearance in our games using other rules.

Which neatly brings me on to the fourth reason for changing the rules: new elements to the game. In this case it’s obviously the pontoon bridge. Standing looking down at the table, it doesn’t make much sense that a unit crossing the bridge in column should take more casualties when fired at from the side than from the front, which gives a push to the switch from ‘flank’ to ‘enfilade’. But that wasn’t the only issue that just didn’t seem right. As I referred to in the previous post we had need of some mechanics for building the bridge and so used those in the original Piquet rules. On the table the rather slow progress in construction enabled Peter to send up some Cossacks to harry the sappers. A quick look at the rules shows that the effect of this is, er, nothing at all; the bridge builders just carry on regardless. The same turns out to be true for being under fire from artillery. None of that seemed to make sense and so some tweaks were applied. In addition there are artillery rules for shooting at structures (cue much discussion as to whether a pontoon bridge was more like a wooden fence or a wooden house) or for shooting at troops, but none for targeting both at the same time if the latter are passing across the former; so some more adjustments were deemed to be required. What we ended up with still didn’t quite feel right - it is of course very important that it still all fits in with the general style of Piquet, card driven, opposed single dice rolls etc. - and I have no doubt that it will have evolved further by next week. I personally can’t see any alternative to this suck it and see development process, and prefer it to playing on regardless with something that is clearly incorrect. Sometimes it’s the journey rather than the destination.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

For Chriss

O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power
Dost hold Time’s fickle glass, his sickle, hour;
Who hast by waning grown, and therein show’st
Thy lovers withering, as thy sweet self grow’st.
If Nature, sovereign mistress over wrack,
As thou goest onwards, still will pluck thee back,
She keeps thee to this purpose, that her skill
May time disgrace and wretched minutes kill.
Yet fear her, O thou minion of her pleasure!
She may detain, but not still keep, her treasure:
   Her audit (though delayed) answered must be,
   And her quietus is to render thee.

-          William Shakespeare, Sonnet 126