Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Heads Down, No Nonsense, Mindless Boogie

Reflecting on the life of Lou Reed inevitably led me to recall the fabulous Alberto y los Trios Paranoias. Their song 'Anadin' took the concept and framework of Reed's 'Heroin' and made it somewhat more amusing. I saw them quite a few times, more than once at St Albans City Hall if I remember rightly. They had a most unusual and very striking prop for one of their other songs, the details of which are not suitable for a family blog such as this. Given that the trio (which had quite a lot more than three members on the occasions that I saw them) broke up thirty years ago you'll have to take my word for it that they were rather good.

Other bands that I saw in St Albans in the late seventies included both Curved Air and Babe Ruth, which gives me a good excuse to include photos of Sonja Kristina:

and Jenny Haan:

although I'm not terribly sure why I actually need a reason.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Skip a life completely, stuff it in a cup

Back in the mid sixties, when The Velvet Underground were changing rock music without anyone noticing, it is doubtful that a record about a drug dealer would have been played on the Light Programme. But today, when "I'm Waiting For The Man" was played on its successor Radio 2 to mark the death of Lou Reed no-one blinked an eyelid.

I will always have a soft spot for the Transformer album, one of the staples of the summer of 1973, but for his best song I don't think one can look beyond "Pale Blue Eyes". Speaking as an accountant I can confirm that money is indeed like us in time, it lies but can't stand up.

Linger on, Lou Reed, linger on.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

"Twice and thrice over,

as they say, good is it to repeat and review what is good." - Plato
A chap with a beard
So, not for the first time, we played Sidi Rezegh. The eagerly awaited demonstration game at Fiasco played out in, believe it or not, a completely different way to previously. What was less surprising was that rules had changed. I rather liked the two main changes: carrying hits within strict limits and reactive fire from one unit whether or not it was the one fired against.

Highlights were:
  • I won (as the Germans)
  • My infantry stormed the left escarpment relatively easily. I always thought it could be done; I don't know what the others were complaining about.
  • My infantry facing the middle escarpment had an initial success which suddenly and mysteriously turned into complete annihilation for them
  • The main British tank force came on in dribs and drabs and were destroyed unit by unit without inflicting any damage at all on the Germans
  • The supposedly weaker British tank force achieved great success including one unit running amok behind the lines before it was taken out by the Luftwaffe
So, farewell then Sidi Rezegh. It's been nice knowing you.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Nay faith, let me not play a woman

And so to the opera. The third of Opera North's season to celebrate Benjamin Britten's centenary is 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.
"I will roar, that it will do any man's heart good to hear me"
At the risk of being even more boring than usual, it was excellent. I'd never seen the opera before, but am obviously extremely familiar with the play (although my companion at the performance wasn't, she can be excused by the fact that she is French), but even so I found myself laughing hard at the mechanicals' play within a play. It didn't lose anything by being set to music. In fact I am more than familiar with both the play, the mechanicals in particular and with the whole thing being set to music. I once played (or perhaps I should say I created) the part of Flute the Bellows Mender in a musical version of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' written by Ronnie Cass,  the genius behind 'Summer Holiday' and 'The Young Ones'. The idea was that once we had proved it to be a success it would then transfer to the West End. We didn't, it didn't and I never appeared on the stage again. Cass was a nice chap though.

Tom Snout

You will recall that as the 'hard-handed men that work in Athens' prepare to put on their play Bottom is missing. On the last night that we were due to perform, our Bottom - Big George - was also missing. We had got as far as a run through with a substitute before he arrived looking unconcerned. Another case of life imitating art, although he denied having woken up with either fairy queen or asses head.

"And the best time is to sing while we're young"

Tuesday, 22 October 2013


It has been drawn to my attention that in my last blog posting I merely listed the boardgames that I played rather than describing them and giving readers the benefit of my much sought after opinion. I shall rectify that immediately. I didn't like Phase 10 terribly much whereas I did like Tikal a lot. The former is a proprietary version of a Rummy variant (a brief trip to the mighty Wikipedia reveals it to be Liverpool Rummy) in the same way that Uno is simply a publisher's version of Twizzle. It passed the time, but one would have to be very bored - probably in a tent in the rain - to play all ten phases. It also seemed odd to me that the later phases are easier to get that the earlier ones. Shome mishtake shurely?
A random Liverpudlian plays Rummy
Tikal on the other hand appealed to me and not just because I won rather handily. Like most Eurogames the theme is rather lightly applied on top, but having been to both Chichen Itza and Tulum I am down with the Mayans. And explorer placement also floated my boat a bit more than worker placement even though it is quite clearly exactly the same thing. Add to that hex tiles and volcanoes reminiscent of Survive! and I was sold.
I have been ploughing my way through more wargames magazines; this time Wargames Illustrated 313. The theme of this edition is the Franco-Prussian War and I enjoyed those articles. I have only ever played one FPW game - which from memory involved Mark suddenly announcing that the gates of the city I was defending had been thrown open by the citizens - and don't know much about it. I do however know that no human has ever adopted the posture of the German officer in the painting on the front cover. There is also, fittingly, another fine tribute to Donald Featherstone and, not unexpectedly, a lot of guff about Flames of War.

Monday, 21 October 2013


It was with some interest, although not necessarily with approval, that I noticed Gerry Adams had tweeted the lyrics of 'Streets of London' just a couple of days after my blog posting about Ralph McTell. I have no stories regarding the Sinn Fein leader, certainly none to rival the one about the Reverend Ian Paisley and the giraffe; an anecdote that I must make room for sometime.

Mr Adams' words are tweeted by an actor
A certain amount of boardgames have been played at more than one location and with more than one group of people including Ice Flow, Love Letter, Revolver, Phase 10 and Tikal.

Miniature Wargames 367 was a mixed read as usual. The series on Salamanca doesn't push any boundaries, but is interesting and the article on Bruce Weigle's terrain was fascinating. The highlight was John Curry's tribute to Donald Featherstone. Neil Shuck continues to puzzle me though. In a review of a new book about Germanicus Caesar he suggests it would make a good basis for an HBO mini series without appearing to be aware of the existence of 'I, Claudius'.

"Why have they forgotten us already?"

We must all lose what we think to enjoy the most

And so to the opera. Opera North's season marking the centenary of Benjamin Britten includes his final opera, Death in Venice.

It was, naturally, excellent. The central performance - Alan Oke as Aschenbach - is just marvellous and the supporting cast of singers, dancers and blokes walking about the stage pretending to be gondoliers are all equally good. I wasn't familiar with the music before, but was very taken with the louder instrumental passages. Some of the percussion makes one think of rock drumming, which given that the piece dates to 1973 might be more than just my complete musical ignorance.

And what of the story? I read Mann's novella a lifetime ago and don't recall ever seeing the Visconti film so it was fresh(ish) to me. I think the word is 'dodgy'. Mann was, I think, writing about the obsession rather than the nature of its object and perhaps we should accept it on those terms. There is an interesting overlap with the subject matter of Peter Grimes, but the world doesn't need cod psychology from me about Britten. The reference material suggests that Mann either intended a number of allusions  to Greek mythology, or possibly he was writing about Mahler, or possibly both or neither. I'm not sure I saw any of that in it, but I managed to enjoy it nonetheless.

Julian Rhind-Tutt and Mark Heap in 'Green Wing'

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Physics Envy

Like a lot of people I love reading about physics and like most people I struggle to follow what I'm reading; and this despite my first degree having been in Mathematical Sciences which one would have thought would give me some sort of chance. But physics, despite being impenetrable, incomprehensible even, is popular. For example, the magazine in this weekend's Financial Times is dedicated to it and is full of fascinating stuff about supersymmetry, dark energy, multiverses and the rest. I commend it, at least as a bit of background next time you watch 'The Big Bang Theory'.

Anyway, the obvious question is: why can't wargaming mimic physics and attain mainstream popularity whilst retaining its crucial and distinctive feature i.e. the point of it all only being understood by initiates. Many of you will at this point be suggesting that all we need to do is to get governments to spend billions of pounds/euro/dollars on building us the equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider and then all will be well. However, a moment's reflection will reveal the flaw in that proposal, namely that no-one would ever be able to agree on what rules to use.

Higgs, the bosun
No, we must look elsewhere for the answer. We need to find wargaming's equivalent of Professor Brian Cox; someone young, articulate, photogenic and with a twinkle in his eye for the laydeez. Now obviously we can all immediately think of half a dozen suitable candidates from within our own immediate gaming circles. The real problem is in narrowing down this embarrassment of riches. So, I suggest a competition with heats at wargames shows around the country followed by a grand final at, say, Salute where Mr Triples, Mr Colours, Mr Overlord etc face off for the role. I must stress, as Candice Bergen's character says in Miss Congeniality, "this is not a beauty competition, it's a scholarship programme" or at least words to that effect. One of the key elements would be a talent round where contestants display their abilities at skills such as painting, rolling ones, arguing about what constitues a flank and other essential wargaming skills. Don't fret though, there will indeed be a swimwear section. Wargamers parading up and down in Speedos cannot fail to get us the publicity that we crave.

"Hello darling, fancy a skirmish?"

I think all will agree that I have performed my contribution by coming up with the idea. I offer it to the wider wargaming community (there is no charge) to pick it up and run with it. You're welcome.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Only the circus is real

I have been to see Ralph McTell. Leeds is full of buskers and it's as likely as not when one turns a corner that one will hear someone singing 'The Streets of London'. The best version is by the chap with the flat cap who is often to be found outside Marks & Spencer's on Briggate. Mind you he does fine versions of all the buskers standbys. All together now: "I am just a poor boy, though my story's seldom told".

McTell is, of course, about much more than one song and the concert was a fine mixture of strong material, entertaining banter between numbers (including, as it happens, a reference to playing on the same bill as Paul Simon)  and excellent singing and playing. His lyrics very often cover wider material than boy meets girl, boy loses girl and he included songs dedicated to performers he admired including Bob Dylan, Robert Johnson and the Reverend Gary Davis; the last featuring in its intro an amusing story about how the Rev almost shot Country Joe McDonald.

And what of his pension plan? He obviously has an ambivalent relationship with it. I have heard him refer to it as "a young man's song", implying that he couldn't or wouldn't write it now. Here he encourages the audience to sing with him and, unusually, it works. I have often had cause to lament the enthusiasm of folkies to join in with the artists because frankly all it does is prove that most people can't hold a tune. (In fairness, it's not just folkies - don't get me started on the white-man clapping that accompanies many performances of all sorts of music). But, for whatever reason, on Streets of London in the City Varieties tonight, it works.

It's a very direct song (Bert Jansch, who played on the single version, said it had no 'mystery') and maybe that's why McTell doesn't rate it so highly. As most readers will probably be aware it's actually about experiences that he had in Paris rather than London, but I think we all recognise a universality of both time and place in the stories. As someone in whom I don't believe said "The poor you will always have with you."

Anyway, I'll end this blog with the first verse from McTell's song 'An Irish Blessing' which speaks to me directly

How my life is changing now  
My young ones start to leave their home 
I wish that their uncertain road  
Was one that I could tread with them

Sunday, 13 October 2013


Yesterday I took advantage of my new location in Ilkley to walk up on to the moor and take in the magnificent views of Wharfedale. And it was well worth the effort as you can see from the photo above. Still, apart from getting drenched and a blister, no harm was done.
Your bloggist is on the far left using his bushcraft to pass undetected
Today however was spent indoors, or to use the correct technical term, in the pub. The Leeds Meeples was relatively quiet, and I must confess that a couple of the games played were nbg. Anyway, I played Citadels, Playtest, Cards Against Humanity, Dixit and Resistance: Avalon. Frankly, of that lot the only one I'd like to own is the first. Still, if I hadn't played them then I'd never know.

Friday, 11 October 2013


I finally got to play with James' Punic War naval toys this week. We refought the battle of Ecnomus that James and Peter had played the previous week. I was the Romans and was tasked with reversing the heavy defeat that James had led them to. I didn't.

I did, however, thoroughly enjoy myself. In my formative wargaming days we played a lot of ancient galley battles with paper cut outs on the floor and I've always had a soft spot for it. I had, sort of, got a grip on the rules by the end and would play things slightly differently next time around. However, they provided what Piquet games usually do, an interesting game that could easily have gone the other way had the cards played out differently.

Readers will be pleased to note that the equatorial length of day was only briefly mentioned. There was some debate about the correct plural of the Latin word 'corvus', but in my opinion this lacks substance as the cause for debate because there is a correct answer that can easily be determined. Far more promising was the discussion as to how that plural might be pronounced. Given that Roman pronunciation is intrinsically unknowable I can see a great future for that particular discussion.
The Swedish Women's Volleyball Team

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

According to Wikipedia

The headline of yesterday's posting was a quote from Wikipedia, which has summarised all poor old Peter Snow's journalistic and literary achievements into being known for waving a large piece of wood about in the middle of the night once every few years. However, Wikipedia has also astonishingly been regarded as definitive evidence  by the loser in the great daylight-at-the-equator debate. Now I neither wish to name the individual involved nor to flag up which theory was correct; as Joseph Joubert said "The aim of argument should not be victory, but progress". But nevertheless, readers may wish to know that I was right all along.

It's possible that people may only be familiar with Ilkley through that appalling song (1). It does, of course, have many other things going for it, such as being the epicentre of wargaming in Lower Wharfedale. On top of that it has many Bronze Age and possibly Druid related standing stones, having been continuously occupied as a site for at least the last four thousand years, with flints having been found that date back another five or so thousand years before that. Now, I hear you asking, what has any of this got to do with the price of fish? Or indeed wargaming?

Well, clearly it's got nothing to do with wargaming; that would just be ridiculous. No, I'm just asking you to imagine yourself back in those prehistoric times. Two men stand part way up on the slope from the river to what was then the Bull, Cow and Calf rocks (possibly where the Winter Gardens are now) arguing about the movement of the sun; the knowledge of which is necessary to erect the load of stones just about to be delivered by the wholesaler. I think that here we can see the real hardship of living in ye olden days. Forget having to paint yourself in woad and die at 35; how is the argument to be settled without Wikipedia?

So why does it make a blue dye? If only there was an online resource that could answer these puzzling questions.

(1) although if you have never heard Bill Oddie's version I urge you to listen here

A man with a beard

Monday, 7 October 2013

Known for: Swingometer

I observed in my last post that the Ilkley Literature Festival was in the grip of a clique. Such complaints must now be put behind me because it transpires that James' wife Lucy is connected in some way to the clique and she managed to blag two free tickets to Peter Snow's talk tonight on the War of 1812 and, more specifically, the burning of the White House. Even better, one of the tickets found its way to me.

And so, James and I attended a very entertaining talk along with a fair number of, mostly elderly, Ilkleyites (although less than for Richard III). Snow, who is 75, delivered what was in effect an hour long lecture without notes. His immense enthusiasm, well known to election night viewers in the UK, causes him to speak rather quickly. At times it was as if Stanley Unwin had been a professor of History instead of Basic Engly Twenty Fido.

After the talk we didn't queue for a signed copy of the book because we were obliged to discuss - at some length - a burning and t(r)opical issue that has been mentioned in these pages before: namely, is the day always twelve hours long at the equator. I can tell you, we got some pretty admiring looks from the others leaving the talk as they were impressed by the scientific rigour of our debate; or possibly it was the way we illustrated out theories with extravagant hand gestures. It would indeed be a great shame if we ever met someone who actually knew anything at all about this subject.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

In Search of Richard III

My move to Ilkley has coincided with the start of this year's Literature Festival. I've been to a few events over the years (Billy Bragg and Joe Boyd amongst others), but the complex ticket purchasing system and the rather cliquey and exclusive nature of it have meant that most years I haven't bothered. However, in an attempt to throw myself into le bon ton I ventured this afternoon to the Kings Hall to hear Philippa Langley and Michael Jones talk about the quite astonishing finding of Richard III's remains last year and, naturally enough, to plug their new book.

They didn't say anything that one hasn't heard before, but they - and the other speaker Robert Woosnam-Savage - were entertaining and convincing. Langley thankfully played down the 'psychic' aspects of the search and paid proper due to the others who helped her, especially John Ashdown-Hill.

Michael Jones was best known to me before as the author of 'Bosworth 1485: The Psychology of a Battle', which is an excellent, thought provoking read even if one doesn't agree with all his conclusions. Apparently this latest book (I didn't queue afterwards to buy one and get it signed) contains alternate chapters of a biography written by him and of the story of the search itself written by Langley. He declared himself a Ricardian, but was reasonably even-handed in his talk and in his responses to questions from the floor.

Woosnam-Savage was, for me, the most interesting speaker. He, as an expert on wounds, took part in the examination of the skeleton and his interpretation of what that told us about both Richard and Henry Tudor was revealing. He wasn't terribly complimentary about the latter. His dress sense left something to be desired though.

A chap with a beard

On a similar subject, I have a letter published in the latest Ricardian Bulletin. Sadly the subject is less obscure than I would have liked, but even so - watch out Keith Flett!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Prententious? Moi?

I neglected to point out that yesterday was National Poetry Day when I included some Pope in the blog yesterday. It is possible therefore that readers in the colonies and elsewhere overseas - all those in the UK will undoubtedly have known of the occasion; this blog only attracts the most superior kind of eyeballs - may possibly, and correctly, have assumed that I am an intellectual pseud, full of cultural pretensions.

I must plead guilty as charged and ask for many other counts of charlatanism to be taken into account. However, whilst you may all give up on me, please don't give up on poetry.

"To have great poets, there must be great audiences." - Walt Whitman

"One merit of poetry few will deny: it says more and in fewer words than prose." - Voltaire

As for including the Raphael yesterday:

"Painting is silent poetry and poetry is painting that speaks." - Plutarch

The Summons
The painting above is by Tim Cole aka Colartz and is reproduced with no permission whatsoever; although I'm sure that he wouldn't mind. It was always my favourite, but someone else bought it before we could.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Happy the man...

 Today, for no reason and for good reason, some Alexander Pope:

 Happy the man, whose wish and care
   A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
                            In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
   Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
                            In winter fire.

Blest, who can unconcernedly find
   Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
                            Quiet by day,

Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
   Together mixed; sweet recreation;
And innocence, which most does please,
                            With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
   Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
                            Tell where I lie.

And some Raphae:
Young Woman with Unicorn
 There is a very tenuous connection between  poem and painting, but if you work it out keep it to yourself. No-one likes a smart-arse.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Maslow and Sod

My absence from the blog recently has mainly been due to my having moved. The whole process, which isn't yet complete, has taken an inordinate amount of time, especially considering that I don't own much and that a large part of what I do own - including all my wargames stuff - is sitting in the garage of the marital home. On of my main concerns has been moving away from the cultural attractions of central Leeds, but in practice the real issue has been trying to get the hot water to work.
The sort of thing one could see from my window if it was in a different place

I have moved to Ilkley, with a lovely view of the moor through the window as I type this. Now Ilkley is of course the epicentre of wargaming for, possibly, the whole of the Wharfe valley and one expected benefit of relocating was to facilitate gaming. However, this Wednesday, I can't make the first game since my move because I have to be at a meeting in, er, central Leeds.