Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Wearing heavy boots

‘T is so much joy! ‘T is so much joy!
If I should fail, what poverty!
And yet, as poor as I
Have ventured all upon a throw;
Have gained! Yes! Hesitated so
This side the victory!
Life is but life, and death but death!
Bliss is but bliss, and breath but breath!
And if, indeed, I fail,
At least to know the worst is sweet.
Defeat means nothing but defeat,
No drearier can prevail!
And if I gain, – oh, gun at sea,
Oh, bells that in the steeples be,
At first repeat it slow!
For heaven is a different thing
Conjectured, and waked sudden in,
And might o’erwhelm me so!

- Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Zorndorf: Aparajito

Like all middle parts of trilogies, this week's Zorndorf episode doesn't make any sense without the either of those that flank it. Senseless or not it was very enjoyable. Horse and Musket is definitely my preferred period (periods) which always helps. The luck was fairly evenly spread (although I spectacularly lost a melee charging a one stand unit in the flank with fresh cavalry) and the outcomes were also pretty equally distributed. I have taken a gamble by switching virtually all my cavalry to the right flank whilst leaving my left flank very weak. On the other hand the Russian right flank mainly consists of units softened up by the pre-battle artillery barrage and my guns are still there so it seems a reasonable risk to take. Plus, we all know that the Russian commander-in-chief is about to flee the field. Well admittedly, you might not, but believe me, he is.

James offers Peter some tactical advice

Zorndorf, which is taking place because the Punic Wars are in abeyance, is itself about to fall into desuetude. No doubt when we pick it up again we will have forgotten what we were doing. It's an age thing.

Monday, 21 April 2014

In a crowded hazy bar

So, two days late, but it's time to offer congratulations to the Bees.

I also neglected to mention before now that I'd been to see Feast of Fiddles and excellent they were too. For a bunch of old folkies (they include violinists who have played with amongst others Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and the Battlefield Band) they are very eclectic in their repertoire. Last year when I saw them they opened with the theme from Thunderbirds, this time it was Kashmir, the Led Zeppelin classic.

I was there

And of course while we're on the subject of music, one must mention the death of Rubin Carter.

All of Rubin's cards were marked in advance
The trial was a pig-circus he never had a chance
The judge made Rubin's witnesses drunkards from the slums
To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum
And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger
No one doubted that he pulled the trigger
And though they could not produce the gun
The DA said he was the one who did the deed
And the all-white jury agreed.


Sunday, 20 April 2014

"This is her picture as she was"

This is that Lady Beauty, in whose praise
Thy voice and hand shake still,--long known to thee
By flying hair and fluttering hem,--the beat
Following her daily of thy heart and feet,
How passionately and irretrievably,
In what fond flight, how many ways and days! 

- Dante Gabriel Rossetti

As you know, this blog doesn't just write itself. So a few days after a brief burst of 'Lady of Shalott' and some Dante I went to Cartwright Hall in Bradford to see their exhibition of studies that Dante Gabriel Rossetti did of Jane Morris, wife of William and the fulcrum of one of those odd set-ups that the Victorians seem to have all carried on behind closed doors. It's well worth seeing as are the other two temporary exhibitions there at the moment.

The first, a travelling show from the British Museum, is basically just one turban, but what a turban. It's a Sikh fortress turban from the nineteenth century with a small amount of background material and other artifacts. I was sorry to see that I had missed lectures earlier in the month on Sikh troops in the First World War and one in conjunction with the Royal Armouries on Sikh arms and armour.

The third exhibition was actually the best, a number of lithographs and prints from the city's own collection. There was inevitably, and quite rightly, some Hockney, in this case 'The Rake's Progress' a series of sixteen prints from the early sixties. There are also some colourful and amusing Glenn Baxter's and a selection of prints specially commissioned to celebrate the 2012 Olympics including works by Tracey Emin and Chris Ofili. Perhaps of most interest to wargamers would be a dozen small prints by Sir William Rothenstein entitled 'Landscapes of the War', the war in this question being that of 1914-18 because Rothenstein served as an official war artist in both world wars. However, those that I'd personally like on my walls are thirteen Lowry's from the mid 1960s.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014


Now obviously I'm not a fairweather walker, but spring has returned to Yorkshire, yesterday was an absolutely glorious day and I was walking near Skipton.
Embsay Crag

I have for some reason picked up 'A Blood-Red Banner: The Alamo' from the games pile and have been playing it. I still can't win as the Texians with the basic rules. Very frustrating. However, a couple of new games have joined the pile; details as and when I play them.
And speaking of what the well-dressed man wears on his head, now that some sun protection is required I have dug out my magic talking hat; and it's still rather fine.

Finally, there is progress on the wargaming annexe. Further details on that soon as well.

Monday, 14 April 2014

The shipwreck of my ill adventured youth

"Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the the river winding clearly"

- Tennyson

"Tu proverai si come sa di sale
Lo pane altrui, e com' è duro calle
Lo ascendere e il salir per l'altrui scale"

- Dante

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The past is never where you think you left it

"Sins cannot be undone, only forgiven" So said Igor Stravinsky, thereby begging the question as to what happens if they never are. I am drawn to this philosophical question by, well, by a sad event, by my solipsistic reaction to it and by the resultant memories of stuff that happened forty years ago that you don't need to know about.

So, watch this video - very evocative for me although I suspect not for anyone else who was there - and note the irony that the lyrics contain the phrase "Can't keep the ghosts away".

The simple things you see are all complicated

We eat and drink, we come and go 
(The sunlight dies upon the open sea). 
I speak in riddles. Is it so? 
My riddles need not mar your glee; 
 For I will neither bid you share 
My thoughts, nor will I bid you shun, 
Though I should see in yonder chair 
Th' Egyptian's muffled skeleton. 
One toast with me your glasses fill, 
Aye, fill them level with the brim, 
De mortuis, nisi bonum, nil! 
The lights are growing dim.

                       - Adam Lindsay Gordon

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Like Romans, like Prussians

The Punic Wars have gone temporarily into abeyance to be replaced with an early run through of Zorndorf, James' demo game for Triples. Fate had decreed that I had not received a sufficient kicking as the Romans and should therefore receive another one as the Prussians. The scenario requires Frederick to behave much as he did on the day (including the bits he didn't plan) and therefore it is more than usually about the cards drawn and the dice thrown.


Events were, I think, quite instructive. The luck was quite evenly split, but heavily skewed within specific areas. Peter won the vast majority of the initiative, thereby proving that the gods of the dominoes can also have their favourites. We are just about to end the second turn and I won't have cycled through even half my deck in total.

Temple to the gods of the dominoes

On the other hand his dice rolling was pathetic even by his own standards, especially when it came to unit quality. I, in contrast, rolled highly for the effects of my pre-battle artillery bombardment, for unit quality and on my defence dice, but in melee and in particular on morale dice I was truly dreadful. So, I hear you ask, what was the outcome? The result, dear reader, was that my attacking infantry force ran away. That's right, they weren't destroyed - I haven't lost any units in that way - the whole lot of them just took off. Now I'm no expert on the Seven Years War, but I'd always thought that Frederick was best known for his ruthless discipline which if it achieved anything it was to stop his men deserting their posts. Not this time.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

"Why should men make haste to die?"

And so to the theatre. Northern Broadsides' tour of their latest production 'An August Bank Holiday Lark' reaches the West Yorkshire Playhouse and it is first class. Barry 'Bazza' Rutter shines in the lead role as if it was written for him; which of course it was. It's a new play by Deborah McAndrew set, as so many will be this year, at the outbreak of the First World War. The reviews have been very positive so far and I'm certainly not going to disagree. I spoke briefly to the theatre critic of the Morning Star during the interval and she was very impressed by the upbeat first half. Having the benefit of hindsight, the audience realises that the war will not in fact be over by Christmas and anticipates the somewhat darker second act.

Compare this hat with the one he wore as Holofernes; just saying

At a previous Broadsides performance of a Shakespeare play I overheard someone in the bar complaining about the clog dancing. Now, going to see Rutter et al and being surprised by the clog dancing is like going to the Derby and being taken aback by the sight of short men on horses. The company have therefore taken the logical step of making clog dancing the theme of the play and it features pretty much all the way through including a spectacular and thrilling set piece to finish act one. Trust me, it's better than it sounds.

As most people know Northern Broadsides perform in regional accents and always try to include various local references. McAndrew develops this theme by including allusions to, for example, the film 'Brassed Off' and the television series 'Brass'. Mind you she also references 'Strictly Ballroom' which isn't particularly northern. A.E Houseman is also mentioned throughout, so let me finish by quoting from 'A Shropshire Lad' for the second time in this posting.

"Far and near and low and louder
On the roads of earth go by
Dear to friends and food for powder,
Soldiers marching, all to die.

East and west on fields forgotten
Bleach the bones of comrades slain
Lovely days and dead and rotten;
None that go return again."

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Gaming update

As the nominal purpose of this blog is wargaming I ought to bring things up to date. The Punic Wars campaign continues to go not that well, but also not badly enough that it's a foregone conclusion. My invasion of North Africa was decided on because of the cards I happened to have in my hand and could have gone worse. Admittedly I have lost my entire army ( all my commanders will have to start the next turn in the same place), but I still hold a province and a port and we end the turn all square in political control. In fact it would have been quite easy for things to have worked out quite well, especially if the Carthaginians had not gained a temporary naval superiority.

The battle just concluded was a protracted and bloody affair that then ended rather suddenly. I had the luck with the cards until all at once I didn't. But, as usual, I could so easily have won; this time if I had destroyed a unit that I had seven dice against, hitting on everything possible. C'est la vie. Still, I did kill all the elephants though.

On the boardgames front, celebrations of International Tabletop Gaming Day involved games of Small World, Alhambra, Family Business, Articulate!, Coup and Quantum. The last was the only new game for me and I was very taken with the design. The theme is rather pasted on, but without it the result would perhaps be too abstract. Anyway, it's on the wishlist.

Friday, 4 April 2014

And six for the...

And so to the theatre. It was the carriageworks for 'We Will Be Free', Townsend Productions play about the Tolpuddle Martyrs which I believe premiered at last year's Edinburgh fringe.

Shamefully, I didn't know the full story beforehand although there was nothing surprising about what was portrayed: villainous local squires and farmers, oppressive Hanoverian laws and noble labouring men and women given to bursting tunefully into folk song at the drop of a hat. I obviously wasn't alone in my ignorance because the chap next to me muttered towards the end that they couldn't be proper martyrs if they didn't die. New to me - assuming it to true - was the harsh nature of the life of transportees in Van Diemen's Land and the inadvertent role played by both the Orange Order and the Duke of Cumberland in the men's release. Diligent research in Wikipedia reveals that the Orange Lodges were later accused of plotting to overthrow Queen Victoria and place her uncle on the throne instead. Surely someone should be planning a 19th century version of the unaccountably fashionable Very British Civil War. You can have the idea for a modest royalty (geddit?).

I enjoyed the company's (all two of them) multi-tasking blend of acting and singing although the pantomime elements fell a bit flat. 'The audience is too cerebral' was my neighbour's verdict on that. Cerebral or not, I think they also appreciated the show although the Morning Star's theatre critic was a bit non-committal when I asked her opinion afterwards.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

World Poetry Day - slight delay

I have only just become aware that World Poetry Day is on a different day to UK Poetry Day and has passed within the last fortnight, embarrassingly unmarked by this blog. So here belatedly is a poem for wargamers everywhere.

They bought me a box of tin soldiers,
I threw all the Generals away,
I smashed up the Sergeants and Majors,
Now I play with my Privates all day.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014


I ought to have posted a spoof for April 1st, but I've missed the midday cut off and so I won't bother. The one in the Guardian this morning is lame even by their standards and I haven't paid much attention elsewhere. James has just posted on his blog about painting eyelids on 28mm figures. Is that meant as a joke? Very hard to tell; even if he had the eyesight to paint them I certainly haven't got the eyesight to see them.
James' painting style continues to evolve

I have been to a lecture on Roman legionary eagles. It started by giving a few examples from popular culture - the film 'The Eagle', HBO's 'Rome', Spartacus (the smutty TV one rather than the noble Kirk Douglas one) - and then rather counter-intuitively praised them for their accuracy. Apparently the legionaries really did care about the eagle more than about life itself. The explanation favoured by the lecturer was religious, but as usual no one actually appears to know. The choice of the eagle as symbol comes from its role as retriever of Jupiter's thunderbolts. I was tempted to ask whether there were any homo-erotic undertones related to the eagle's part in the abduction of Ganymede, but, remembering the reaction on a previous occasion when I had asked about the way that a young lady was fondling Hercules staff, I didn't.

"Who's a pretty boy then?"
I learned two other facts that I didn't know before. Firstly, the eagles were the first example in history of a unit standard being so revered. It didn't happen in Greece, Egypt, Persia or China. Secondly, no examples survive. They are all believed to have been melted down for the gold and silver.