Monday, 5 December 2016

And so this is Christmas...

 "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." - Charles Dickens

Or, to be more precise, it isn't Christmas yet. It is a well known phenomenon that the onset of the Christmas season gets earlier each year. In Otley it starts with firstly the turning on of the lights which was last week - I didn't go - and then with the annual Victorian Fayre, as the Victorians almost certainly didn't spell it. I mentioned last year that I normally choose that staple of the nineteenth century working class festive fare, the samosa. However, and shockingly, there weren't any this year. I therefore opted for a potato and coriander pattie from the vegan street food stall followed by a Malaysian chicken wrap. We do things in the old fashioned way here in the West Riding. There was also once again no reindeer, but there were owls and donkeys, which had to suffice.

This year the big day was preceded by a Victorian Folk Extravaganza the night before. The performers, though thankfully not the audience, entered into the spirit of the event by dressing up. They mostly went for Thomas Hardy type costumes, appearing to have wandered in from either the set of 'Far From The Madding Crowd' or from a Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance gig according to one's perspective. The always excellent Yan Tan Tether looked like a themed version of the old 'I know my place' sketch that featured John Cleese and the Two Ronnies. Yan was a mob capped indoor servant, Tan was a lady from the gentry and Tether had come as Alfred P. Doolittle. Helen McCreary, who joined the Jon Palmer Acoustic band on 'Meet On The Ledge', was dressed as if she was on her way to cheerleading practice, but she's an American, and maybe things were different over there at the time. But the main honours must go to Jon Palmer himself who gone part Dickens and part Tenniel. He sported a long tailed jacket and a truly magnificent hat. Upon spotting his headgear I reached purposefully into the man bag to fetch out the camera which, as recently advised, now accompanies me everywhere. Unfortunately the battery was flat so I had to pinch the pictures above and below from Twitter.

Musically it was very good, although I could have done with fewer seasonal songs; in fact none at all would have been fine by me. Jon Palmer was as good as ever (the new drummer must be at least fifty years older than the previous one) and I could listen to the unaccompanied singing of Yan Tan Tether for hours, especially as they once again did the Jake Thackray song after which they are not named. New to me was Bella Gaffney, whom I also very much enjoyed. She has a soulful voice for a folk singer, a versatile guitar technique (I was reminded of Catfish Keith himself; there is no finer praise), her between song banter is most entertaining and, according to others who pay more attention to these things than me, is rather easy on the eye.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Follow the bear

I actually made it to Recon in Pudsey this year. I used to go regularly in the days when I did no wargaming, but for some reason the minute I actually got back into the groove I couldn't get my act together to drive less than thirty minutes. It was every bit as pleasant as I remembered and I did my bit to support the hobby by spending a magnificent £1.25 with the traders. I bumped into a couple of people that I know, whom I invited yet again to come round and take a look at the wargaming annexe. Maybe they will, but I'm not holding my breath. I was rather pleased to finally see one of them in his re-enactment finery about which I had heard so much. Sadly, I had no camera to record this. I put it to him that to the causal observer he didn't look terribly physically comfortable. He assured me that he was fine, but did so in a fairly unconvincing manner. He also explained that although he was an officer, he was the sort who wasn't in command of anyone and didn't give any orders; I've had jobs like that myself.

Coming back to the camera issue, I have bought a new one. You may recall that early in my newly single life I bought an excellent camera cheaply in a pawn shop, and then promptly lost it while over-excited by the young farmers ladies tug-of-war at last year's Otley Show. I then bought another from a similar source even more cheaply. This proved to be a disappointment and during the recent festival of online conspicuous consumer consumption I bought a better one at, I think, a reasonable price. Recent photos to appear here have been taken with it and, although I haven't by any means mastered it yet, I am happy enough with the results. The camera being replaced does have one big advantage though, in that it is very light. Given the loss to posterity of my not being able to show the 21eme Régiment d'Infanterie de Ligne's least dashing officer on this blog, the old camera has now been placed permanently in the man bag.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Up and 'at em

There isn't much about my wargaming where I have the edge over James, but I'm going to claim a minor victory in terms of speed of project from inception to table. It's only taken ten months or thereabouts since I ordered the figures and there was a Great War game this week.

I umpired and rather enjoyed it all. Richard Clarke states in his introduction to the scenario supplement 'Stout Hearts and Iron Troopers' that the first six scenarios are intended to enable players to both learn the rules and the appropriate tactics. The one we played - the very first - is predicated on the British attacking with full vigour when, or so it seemed to us, their best bet is to sit off and used the Lewis gun and rifle grenadiers to blat the Boche from a distance.

For the record the game ended in a British victory when the German HMG team ran away, having jammed a ridiculous number of times. I think we picked up the mechanics reasonably well, although as one would expect there was confusion and debate about some specifics. The Lardies Yahoo group is a good resource for sorting out these things. As I've said before about other rulesets, I think perhaps the Ilkley Lads house style is a tad gung-ho; for some reason we have a group aversion to voluntarily pausing for breath during a game.

The MG08 is off
I think we'll give it another go. There was a consensus that it's best left until we've just about forgotten how to play it and so that is what we'll do. I have enough forces for the second scenario - they're only marginally bigger than the first - but need to work out how to layout the trench system. Looking ahead after that, I am unlikely to put on the third scenario, which requires half a dozen houses that I don't have, or scenario four, which uses tanks that I don't have either. What I shall do, once the Celtic slingers are finished of course, is start to paint up the forces for scenario five, in which the Germans are the attackers for a change.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Boardgames 11/16

6 Nimmt!: As I have mentioned before there is a strongly held view in certain quarters that playing cards at random is as good a strategy in this game as bothering to give it any thought. I don't agree; the winning strategy is to make sure you get dealt good cards.

7 Wonders: I rather like this game; I am rather bad at this game.

Airlines of Europe: The is mostly Ticket to Ride but with aeroplanes, or possibly Ticket to Ride is this but with trains. It's not as good, but it isn't bad at all.

Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game: Those who have played the original boardgame say this is better. Or possibly they say that this isn't as good; I wasn't really paying attention. I gave it a 6 - 'Will play if in the mood' on boardgamegeek. I confess I was bothered by the blurb describing a game with Burgundy in the title as being about the Loire Valley and, probably more importantly, that the cards are too small to read properly.

Celestia: I gave this the thumbs up last month and enjoyed it just as much on a second play. An expansion has arrived - that was quick - and seemed to add variety without complexity.

Clank!: A deck building dungeon adventure, with the title coming from the need to keep quiet if you want to stay alive. The dragon attack mechanism is very clever, although nobody seemed in much danger in the game I played. I thought it was all inoffensive enough, but had rather switched off because the way the cards played out during the first couple of turns seemed to have put me so far behind that I didn't have a chance. And then suddenly I'd won by a mile; if I knew how then I would pass on a few tips.

Codenames: Excellent game which depends entirely on the person giving the clues. When it was my turn I came up with one for 'Cat' and 'Tail' with which I was rather pleased.

The Dragon & the Flagon: A programming game (think Robo Rally or Colt Express) about a tavern brawl in a fantasy setting, which I thoroughly enjoyed. There is something very satisfying about swinging from a chandelier across the bar and kicking someone off a table. No-one else enjoyed it though, so I suspect that we'll never see it again.

Evolution: Climate: Another expansion that seems to improve things; it's been an unusual month.This one involves the world getting progressively hotter or colder or, in the game I played, neither. This has quickly become the favourite game of one of the hardcore gamers that I know. Still, as his previous favourite was Keyflower that isn't necessarily much of a recommendation.

Flamme Rouge: I did slightly better this time, but still not very well. We played the advanced game this time, adding in the effects of going up and down hills. I recommend it.

Honshu: A map building game where the key factors are winning the turn order that you want - via a meld of bidding and trick taking - coupled with a sense of spatial awareness; the latter I just don't have.

Scrawl: This is to Chinese Whispers as Pictionary is to Charades.

Skull: Always reliable filler.

Village Inn: It's Village, with added Inn. It's a very odd inn as well because you have to first make the beer and then take it with you when you visit the place. Even by the standards of many boardgames that's a thematic oddity. Anyway, it's a worker placement game where your workers have to die if you are to win. The activation mechanism is actually slightly more interesting than the worker placement label would suggest.

Monday, 28 November 2016

The truth in masquerade

"I have always loved truth so passionately that I have often resorted to lying as a way of introducing it into the minds which were ignorant of its charms." - Giacomo Casanova

One or two questions have been raised about the Jackson C. Frank anecdote in the previous post. In response I would firstly say that it seemed to me to be one of those stories which is too good to check, and secondly that I have on a number of occasions pointed out that one would be wise not to take everything that appears here at face value.

And that's a moral that also applies elsewhere. One of my so-called rivals in the world of wargames blogs has, by who knows what photoshop trickery, published a picture which seems to show me using my phone whilst a wargame is in progress, with the implication that I am engaged in some alternative and reprehensible activity instead of focussing on the game. You can be comforted therefore, gentle readers, when I reassure you that I have a hobby that I take very seriously, work at assiduously, give all the attention that it deserves and at which I am very successful.

Anyway, back to wargaming. The game this week is at my house and I don't think it's worth doing any more WWI stuff until we've played this first scenario through and can see where it all may or may not be going. Painting action has therefore moved to ancients, where spurred on by recent To the Strongest! games I am finishing the loss markers for Celts and Romans and painting up a few Newline Celtic slingers, despite the fact that I already have more than the maximum that can be fielded. It's the only way.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Never Any Good

I have been to see Martin Simpson, whom I last saw four years ago. On that occasion he had a couple of accompanists - Andy Cutting on squeeze box if I remember rightly - although my blog post of the time is remarkably uninformative as to what he sang. Simpson, who is above all a brilliant guitarist (as an aside, he performed a couple of songs on the banjo and his versatility almost - almost - made me warm to that instrument), mostly performs interpretations of other people's songs with just a couple of his originals. Highlights for me were 'The Stranger Song', in tribute to Leonard Cohen, and what was apparently one of the English ballad forerunners to St James Infirmary Blues (much loved by your bloggist of course) segueing into Dylan's 'Blind Willie McTell', itself heavily influenced by the blues standard.

“But power and greed and corruptible seed
 Seem to be all that there is.”

As well as a poignant, politically charged and finger-pointing song about Aberfan and, more unexpectedly, 'Heartbreak Hotel' he covered Jackson C. Frank's classic 'Blues Run the Game'. Simpson is good value for patter between songs, mostly both educational and, where appropriate, amusing. I had previously been aware that Frank had been somewhat unlucky in life; what I hadn't appreciated was that the money which he used to record his sole, unsuccessful album came from compensation that he had received for being badly injured when the orphanage in which he spent his childhood had burned down. That is perhaps beyond bad luck as we would normally understand it.

Never Any Good is Simpson's biggest 'hit'. His father - the song's subject - was born in 1899 and was fifty four when Simpson was born. Simpson himself is sixty three and has an eleven year old daughter. My own daughters - ten years or so older than his - could never convince their teachers that they had a grandmother who had been evacuated as a child during the second world war (their classmate's parents typically being a couple of decades younger than me), but even I have trouble with the thought that there is in this country at the moment a primary school child whose grandfather was born during the reign of Queen Victoria and fought in the Great War.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Farewell Fidel

"A revolution is not a bed of roses. A revolution is a struggle to death between the past and the future" - Fidel Castro

Thought-provoking words at a time when we wait to see what sort of revolutions are about to be imposed on us all. 

The subject of Cuba always brings to my mind another subject very relevant to today's world: the lies that politicians tell. It's one thing to suspect that what one is being told is not completely accurate, it's a big step to knowing incontrovertibly that lies are being told based on one's own direct experience. For me that step came with the US invasion of Grenada, when I knew for certain that pretty much everything that Reagan said on the subject was an outright untruth. I've already wittered on about this enough in the past so I won't repeat myself (check out the posts labelled Grenada if you're really interested), and anyway you will all be familiar with the same story behind the more recent and more disastrous invasion of Iraq. But, in a world where truth seems less and less accessible it never does any harm to remind oneself.

The other source of misinformation is of course the media and it will be interesting to see how they report Castro's life and legacy. I've already read one lazily compiled report this morning saying that the US embargo has left the streets of Havana full of 1950s American cars. As anyone who has been there can tell you, the roads in Cuba are full of Toyotas exactly the same as everywhere else in the world. It's always referred to as the US embargo for good reason; nobody else took any notice.