Friday, 28 April 2017

With groans that thunder love

"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" 
- Sir Toby Belch, Twelfth Night

These days for Epictetus, I am sad to say, there are indeed neither cakes nor ale, but, on a happier note, virtue has by no means been the result. The events of the last month have not put a stop to theatre going, but they did put me out of mood for writing about it. It's time to catch up.

As you will have guessed I saw the National Theatre Live transmission of "Twelfth Night" and excellent it was. The currently fashionable cross gender casting (Malvolia and Feste) compounded nicely the cross dressing of the plot and the comedy and cruelty of the play were very well brought out. The director's aim seemed to be to highlight our common humanity regardless of gender, sexuality or race (Sebastian and Viola were played by black actors) which put me in mind of "A Doll's House" which I'd seen earlier in the month.

Ibsen has Torvald tell Nora that she is first and foremost a wife and mother, to which she replies that surely she is first and foremost a human being. One of the reasons for not posting about seeing this play before was that I seem to have been living the plot of it for the last few weeks; real life has had a different ending though. A piece which I have also seen and which most certainly bears no relation to my own circumstances is "Rita, Sue and Bob Too"; perish the thought. This was the original play on which the film was, in part, based. Amusing though the film (strap line "Thatcher's Britain with its knickers down") is, it was provided with a more upbeat ending and the play is darker and better. It also contained substantially more nudity. a real car was on stage for certain, shall we say, climactic scenes and from my seat in the circle it was a procession of bare arses and fannies. I must once again provide a translation for US readers and point out that in British English those two words are not synonyms.

The audience for Andrea Dunbar's play were mainly somewhat raucous (that is a euphemism) women on a night out and many of them looked as if they were interchangeable with the characters on the stage. The same was true for Kay Mellor's "A Passionate Woman", where a more normal bunch of theatre goers watched an amusing take on how a middle class woman lived a life of dreariness until reminded of the secret affair that had once brought love into her life, while her husband turned a blind eye to everything. These last three plays were all to an extent about unhappiness within marriage and, perhaps inevitably, it was the men in them that seemed to be to blame. No comment.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Upon the Grandiose

We had a crack at Epic C&C Napoleonics last night in the form of the battle of Möckern and I would judge it a qualified success. Firstly, and I really don't mean this facetiously, we got it finished in just under three hours. Some games suit being spread out over two or even more evenings, C&C - notwithstanding labelling it as 'Epic' - doesn't. Translating the original boardgame to miniatures didn't quite work: the playing area looked lost in the middle of the table (at least once I had switched to Hexon; the larger offset squares looked OK) and the games were over in too short a period. My own attempt at expanding the scale didn't move along fast enough, but the official version seemed to hit the Goldilocks sweet spot of game length.

I was left in two minds about the Courier Rack, the cards visible to and usable by both sides. I got the feeling that sometimes cards were chosen specifically to deny them to the other player rather than because they were the most useful. I also felt that it made it harder to plan very far ahead compared to having all the options in one's own hand. On the other hand, and as Peter pointed out, if one's own hand is no good then being able to draw from the Rack at least allows one to do something. The requirement to play one's two cards per turn in different sections of the battlefield is a double edged sword. It means that things happen all across the table, but at the expense of being able to fully develop the action where one would wish to concentrate. Attacks are difficult enough to coordinate in C&C in the first place. The rules also allow one to move - but not battle with - extra units when certain cards are played. I felt that these additional moves were perhaps used too much as an afterthought by the players and should, at least in the early stages, have been more central to their thinking when choosing cards to play.

The French start in the Manor House
As for the game itself, it was a fairly easy French win. C&C scenarios are always unbalanced, but I'm not sure whether that was the only reason. The Allied attack never got going, partly because of the way the cards fell and partly because Epic is a different game to the base game and needs playing differently; on top of which James always seems to be lucky with the C&C dice in a way which he isn't necessarily when rolling ordinary dice. There was a bit of toing and froing over the two forwardmost of the French held town sections and James launched a cavalry charge for no better reason than he had two Cavalry Charge cards in his hand. (As an aside I believe that on the day the French cavalry commander refused point blank to do the same.)

And then the Prussians are in the Manor House

So, in conclusion, it's worth another try of the rules as written, building on what was learned about how to play, before trying any amendments. What I also think I shall do is take a scenario written for a different ruleset, of which I have many, and translate it to C&C, which the intention of making it more balanced than those included with the rules.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Hail to asparagus

The Casa Epictetus once again has both heat and hot water, and not a moment too soon because, despite it being spring, we have once again been hit by a hailstorm of Biblical proportions. I watched it from the comfort of the Boathouse Café in Lister Park, but sadly there was no one stranded out on the lake in the pedal boats. Anyway, as it is spring certain things have returned. This being Otley, one of them is Morris dancing; this bunch are the Buttercross Belles:

On a happier note the first English asparagus of the season has arrived. To celebrate I went with sweet potato and ginger mash, pan fried tomato with onion and basil and, of course, poached eggs:

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Evasion by Horse Archers

I haven't posted anything on this controversial subject for a couple of weeks, and nor frankly can I remember what my views were when I last did, beyond a general dissatisfaction with life in general. I have however just come across this post from four years ago, so you can see it's by no means a new topic. I remember that game all too well (James' describes the scenario here); it was a pretty spectacular defeat for the Saracens with all of their commanders dying and all of their commands failing major morale. In Piquet terms, that's just about as bad as it gets.

In other news, a reader has asked if I now have heating and hot water. No I don't, although I'll give the plumbers full marks for trying. The lack of heating wouldn't normally be so bad given the time of year, but unfortunately it has not just been brass monkeys here today, it has actually been snowing. So much for spring.

Monday, 24 April 2017

In Absence

                    Ah, there shall never come 'twixt me and thee
                    Gross dissonances of the mile, the year;
                    But in the multichords of ecstasy
                    Our souls shall mingle, yet be featured clear,
                    And absence, wrought to intervals divine,
                    Shall part, yet link, thy nature's tone and mine.
                                                - Sidney Lanier 

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Judean People's Front

"To rely upon conviction, devotion, and other excellent spiritual qualities; that is not to be taken seriously in politics." - Lenin

One of the minor, incidental pleasures of going to the theatre is watching the contrast as separate audiences for shows in different performance spaces converge and mingle; indeed I have written about it before here. It was with some amusement therefore that I watched the young man trying to sell copies of the Socialist Worker (a) to bemused parties of ladies arriving to see 'Thoroughly Modern Millie' at The Grand in Leeds whilst at the same time shouting (him, not them) "May must go, Corbyn must stay" (b). The reason for this was not some unexpected political message to be found in the musical (although like most love stories it is really about money and the power that goes with it - if you don't believe me then go and watch it again), but because Tariq Ali was speaking on Lenin in the Howard Assembly Rooms, which are attached to the Grand. It was naturally to the latter that I was headed.

The rooms are owned and managed by Opera North and there was a Steinway on stage. I did wonder idly whether the Russian revolution was going to be explained by means of comic song in the style of Richard Stilgoe or, even better, Victoria Wood. However the truth was equally unexpected and just as pleasurable. A pianist appeared and played the first movement from Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata as a sort of warm up, an approach to public speaking of which I heartily approve. Ali was introduced as a public intellectual (no definition of this term was provided) and much of his talk seemed to me to be spent justifying the importance of the intelligentsia in early twentieth century Russia and, by extension, to the modern world as a whole, so perhaps there was an element of theatricality in all this; convincing the audience that we were in the elite because we had listened to a bit of classical music. It worked for me.

Ali's talk was interesting and very wide ranging; indeed it wandered off the advertised subject for long periods. There was a substantial section on Operation Barbarossa for example, with the confident claim made that had Tukhachevsky not been purged by Stalin in 1937 that the German invasion would have been defeated quite quickly. I have no idea on whether that hypothesis has any substance, but I do know that it has bugger all to do with Lenin. Nonetheless, as I say, it was all rather stimulating and thought provoking.

The question and answer session afterwards was, however, a whole different thing. There was a sizeable audience, perhaps a couple of hundred people, many of whom seemed still to be living in the 1970s. The chap who put out the water for the speaker and interlocutor was even wearing a beret in what appeared to be a Wolfie Smith homage. I can't believe that those who spoke from the floor had not seen the famous satire on British Trotskyism in the 'Life of Brian', but they certainly hadn't learned from it. As far as I could make out, in their opinion, all of the world's current problems were caused by Ali's joining the Interntional Marxist Group in 1968, only to be made worse by him leaving the IMG some years later, or possibly it was the other way round. Only two things were clear: I was the only one there who had not come with an agenda to slag off the speaker, and that everything - and I mean everything - was his fault. It was all truly bizarre, although I must say that it was also somewhat nostalgic for anyone with first hand experience of how far left groups carried on back in the day .

Wolfie was of course prone to shouting 'power to the the people' at inappropriate times. John Lennon's 1971 song of the same name was inspired by a meeting with Tariq Ali. Everything is connected.

(a) It has been a long, long time since a photograph of your bloggist last featured in the pages of the Socialist Worker. For those suffering withdrawal symptoms I can be found in the current spring edition of the One Traveller newsletter, New Horizons; less hair is involved on this occasion.

(b) With a bit more imagination he could have made that slogan rhyme.

Friday, 21 April 2017

It's Friday Night, Got To Go Home Now

As proof that people can reappear in one's life as well as disappear, I have heard from one of my closest friends at school (for our US readers I really mean school and not university) after a gap of many years. This has brought some sadness - inevitably bad things as well as good have happened in a couple of decades - but also some amusing coincidences. We shared many interests back in those days. I think I may have mentioned before that I played keyboards in the worst band of all time; Don was the bass player. Of more relevance is that he and Charlie (Charlie was the drummer) were my first wargaming opponents, using - naturally - Donald Featherstone's rules from the local library's copy of Advanced Wargames. I seem to remember refighting Waterloo as part of his CSE History project, although I also remember it being rigged so that Napoleon would win.

Anyway, it seems that in retirement he has returned to the one true hobby and spookily was already a fan of the blog. Not this blog obviously, that would be beyond coincidence even as we students of the higher mathematics interpret the word. No, he is a follower of James' blog, in common with the rest of the wargaming world. What I'm not clear about is why he didn't spot me in the photos of the legendary wargames room, after all I have hardly aged a bit in the last forty years.