Monday, 27 March 2017

They were rich and full years

"I live for coincidences. They briefly give to me the illusion or the hope that there's a pattern to my life, and if there's a pattern, then maybe I'm moving toward some kind of destiny where it's all explained." - Jonathan Ames

And so to the theatre. Despite all the evidence to the contrary I do have a degree in maths and am well aware that coincidences are entirely in the eye of the beholder. And so I shall not read anything much in to the fact that the latest production that I have seen - Kiss Me, Kate - contained allusions to more than one of the other shows that I have seen recently. Fred Graham for example, only gives us his Petruchio, because his Cyrano closed after four nights. And there is a whole scene dedicated to practicing curtain calls, something that the cast of Hedda Gabler would have benefited from.

The purpose of the scene is of course to establish the positions of the two female leads, both in the company and in the personal life of the leading man, and it was these two women who rather stole the whole show. This being almost Shakespeare you will no doubt be wondering whether they were playing characters intended to be female by Cole Porter and the Spewacks (a), and I can confirm that they were indeed; the only cross gender casting on this occasion was the part of First Gangster, revealed as being the wife of Second Gangster and therefore his boss in more ways than one. I suspect that this was done not just for comic effect, although it worked in that way rather well, but also as a counterpoint to the terrible sexism that seems to have been every bit as bad in the nineteen forties as it was in the late sixteenth century.

Still, despite that I enjoyed it all very much. Let's have some Ella Fitzgerald:

(a) Should I ever come out of rock and roll retirement that is what I shall call my band: Cole Porter and the Spewacks.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

A Love Song

What have I to say to you
When we shall meet?
I lie here thinking of you.

The stain of love
Is upon the world.
Yellow, yellow, yellow,
It eats into the leaves,
Smears with saffron
The horned branches that lean
Against a smooth purple sky.

There is no light—
Only a honey-thick stain
That drips from leaf to leaf
And limb to limb
Spoiling the colours
Of the whole world.

I am alone.
The weight of love
Has buoyed me up
Till my head
Knocks against the sky.

See me!
My hair is dripping with nectar—
Starlings carry it
On their black wings.
See, at last
My arms and my hands
Are lying idle.

How can I tell
If I shall ever love you again
As I do now?

        - William Carlos Williams

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Vernally yours

"If people did not love one another, I really don't see what use there would be in having any spring." 
- Victor Hugo

As someone once said, there is a world of difference between the first day of spring and the first spring day. I gleaned from somewhere (quite possibly by watching QI) that in these latitudes spring advances north at walking pace; whatever form of transport it used, it has now arrived in the Wharfe Valley. I have also been advancing at walking pace, though in my case it was  over Blubberhouses Moor along the Roman road that ran between Ilkley and Boroughbridge and then across Denton Moor and back down into the Washburn Valley. Anyway, be that as it may, the sun has been shining, buds are on the trees, they are playing bowls in Wharfemeadows Park and lawn mowers are on special offer in Argos. I would have included the appearance of lycra clad cyclists on the roads in that list of the harbingers of spring, but round here they never go away. Indeed the first item for discussion when Peter and I arrive at James' for a game is often just how difficult it has been to see them in the road while driving there, given their inexplicable preference for dark clothing on dark winter nights.

So it was again this week, but I suspect that in the absence of an accident you're not actually that bothered so let's take a look at the game instead. It was fun, as pushing toy soldiers round a table always is. I would normally start with the result, but it's slightly unclear what that was. I conceded defeat after a couple of hours - you will recall from the previous post that I was rather pessimistic going in to the second evening - but was persuaded to play out the next couple of turns by James. Naturally, I then had an exceptional run of dice rolling and my reinforcements from 21st Panzer swept right up on to the escarpment in a manner guaranteed to irritate not just the opposing commander, but also anyone who might have based an earlier decision to give up based on mathematical probabilities. I calculate that the chances of me making those particular command rolls was about 5 in 10,000 which means I think we can all agree that capitulating was the right thing to do even though it was subsequently proved to be the wrong thing to do.

As for the rules, it's too early to pronounce judgement. Apart from anything else we're all playing to different understandings of what's printed in them let alone what they actually mean, although obviously debate does lead to a consensus; that consensus being whatever James says. On top of which even my scanty knowledge of military hardware capabilities in North Africa during the Second World War has necessarily improved after a couple of games. It is therefore time to put it all to one side and do something else.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

There is method in 't

"Madness in great ones must not unwatched go." - Claudius

And so to the theatre. I have been to see Hamlet, a rather bashed about and - thankfully - very much shortened version of Hamlet, but Hamlet nonetheless. The questions you are immediately going to ask are which male characters were played by women - Horatio and Rosencrantz - and whether it was in modern dress - no. Several characters and many scenes disappeared; the absence of Fortinbras meant that Horatio was literally the only person standing at the end, and she seemed to be looking longingly at the cup with poison in it.

Icarus Theatre Collective, for it was they, claim to "relish what others shy away from, show what others daren't", but in terms of staging it was pretty much like every other version of the play that I've seen: ghosts, madness, death and famous quotes by the bucketful. In this version the lines you recognise weren't always in the mouths of the characters that you expect (i.e. the ones that Shakespeare wrote them for) or indeed of any characters at all; the versatile cast, when not playing a particular role, often stood around acting as a sort of chorus, chiming in either instead of or as well as the actors whose scene it was. I must admit that I didn't really get the point of the speaking in unison. It just seemed to make it harder to make out the words. On the other hand in case one didn't fully appreciate the most famous bit - "To be, or not to be" obviously - they stuck it in three times in different places. 

None of the above should be taken as indication that I didn't like it; I found it very entertaining with plenty of energy. The sword fights were excellent. I realise that this is fast becoming one of the standards by which I judge plays; forget the poetry, what about the fencing?

Going back to me not getting the point of things on the stage, at the weekend I bumped into my friend the theatre critic of the Morning Star for the first time in ages. I asked her about Pygmalion, which she had reviewed more favourably than I thought it warranted. It seems that where I saw much of the action taking place in fish tanks for no discernible reason beyond the director's wish for a gimmick, she saw a symbolic representation of the social constraints under which women of a certain class had to live their lives. 

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." - Hamlet

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Johnny Cool

It's the first day of spring and it's alternating here between snow and hail. Let's have another Chuck Berry cover to take our mind off things; I really don't know how I forgot this one last time:

Back in the seventies, as much as I loved the Steve Gibbons Band I always saw them as a pub band who got lucky. Forty years on I think I was right. They did Dylan as well:

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Brown eyed handsome man

There's only one subject worth writing about today. He might not have been a nice man - indeed I heard Bill Wyman use pretty much those exact words once - but...

That's Albert Lee in the Emmylou Harris video, proving once again that everything is connected to everything else; and yes, that is Elkie Brooks singing backing vocals behind Marc Bolan, Dave Edmunds and, er, Alvin Stardust.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

How far?

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." - T.S. Eliot

It's been a while since this blog interested itself in the higher mathematics. Those who recall the offset square line-of-sight debacle will know why. However, having done some, with hindsight, bogus calculations the other day regarding likely movement distances in Blitzkrieg Commander I have developed a bit of a taste for it and have had a short (actually very short) play with the numbers again, this time on a spreadsheet rather than in my head. This is a bit of a 'spherical chicken in a vacuum' exercise because what I calculated has nothing to do with reality, but then again we're wargamers so we should be used to that. And before I start let me apologise for sloppily referring in the previous post to averages when I really meant expected values.

So, if we assume that the Germans are trying to move an armoured formation as far as they can in a straight line across open terrain without firing or being fired at, without encountering anything in their way, without the units changing their relative position to each other, and making the assumption that only the first command roll each turn doesn't suffer a distance penalty, then the expected value of the distance they would move before failing their command roll is 21", or at least it would be if the commanders were not restricted to moving 24". Rather counter intuitively, the fact that they are so restricted means that the expected value averaged across several turns would be reduced somewhat further even though they can actually move more than the expected movement of the units under their command. However, to calculate the effect of that with greater precision is more complicated than even I can be bothered to do. On the same basis the British can expect to move 16", which would be similarly reduced by the command unit move restriction. The difference is entirely due to the Germans having a CV of 9 and the British 8. Possibly the most interesting point of all of this is just how much of a difference that lower CV makes.

Clearly we use inches rather than the centimetres of the original rules - embarrassing but true - and (mostly) convert them by multiplying by 60%, meaning tank units move at 12" per segment. The fact that neither expected value is a multiple of 12" gives a good indication of the abstract nature of all this. Anyway, apart from providing a tangible example of the importance of not unnecessarily reducing the target one is making a command roll against if one can avoid it, there were actually some concrete results from my self-indulgence. On re-reading the rules I think I've found two that we are playing wrongly:
  • Distance from commanders does not affect command rolls in respect of infantry guns (page 12, note 2)
  • The German flexible tactical doctrine means that HQ command units can issue orders without any penalty on their command roll (page 43)
So, not a complete waste of time then.

 "In mathematics the art of proposing a question must be held of higher value than solving it." 
- Georg Cantor