Saturday, 28 November 2015

Baby, it's a Knit Mitt

For those of you jaded with wargaming I offer you an alternative vaguely military related craft based hobby. Check it out here. I have seen the future.

“Those who restrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.” - William Blake

Friday, 27 November 2015

Exit pursued by another bear

It's a sad fact that some readers of this blog have disagreed with some of my comments on here, the most notable when being when I pointed out that that 'Chinese' Gordon of Khartoum was a religious nutcase; a statement of the bleeding obvious that prompted more than one god-botherer to take their bat home. It's also a fact that the writer of this blog often disagrees with what he writes; it not all being meant to be taken entirely seriously. However, today I can say with some certainty that even should this blog last another twenty years I shall never post a less controversial opinion than the one that follows: Judi Dench can act a bit.

I have been to see the live broadcast of Kenneth Branagh's production of The Winters Tale; a play incidentally that I had quite happily lived for almost sixty years without seeing, but which I have now seen twice in a couple of months. It was an excellent production - the play itself is a touch ho hum if truth be told - but as good as Sir Ken himself was as Leontes and as fine as the rest of the cast performed, it was Dame Judi as Paulina who stole the show. She was simply wonderful.

It was the first time that I had been to a live theatre transmission to a cinema and I was most impressed by the technical aspects: the sound was clear, the stage effects (including the bear) and lighting came across perfectly and the camera angles and close ups were very well chosen. There will be a live showing of  Branagh's company performing Romeo and Juliet next summer and I recommend it. If you needed any further incentive the elder Miss Epictetus - an increasingly fervent Shakespeare enthusiast and my accompanist for the evening -  tells me that it will be starring 'the really fit bloke from Game of Thrones'.

Thursday, 26 November 2015


“I do feel it gone,
But know not how it went” 
- William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale

Life has ticked along nicely during my brief absence from blogging here. I went to an very entertaining talk on pseudoscience by Michael Marshall of the Good Thinking Society. There was nothing new, but it's always good to hear someone stick the boot into psychics, homeopathy etc. There was the usual round of boardgaming - which will be covered in due course, although I can reveal that I have played another cooperative game that I quite like - and even some wargaming.

First up in terms of wargaming was the little project to redo all my number markers. I set up a production line and with with a bit of focus have managed to pretty much finish, despite the fact that it quite possibly wasn't worth doing in the first place. Is that better than half-finishing something that is worth doing? What am I, a philosopher?

Which leaves the climax of the latest Seven Years War scenario at James'. I rather thought it was all over before we started, a feeling reinforced when Peter got an early run of initiative and I sank to zero morale. However, the dominoes suddenly shifted in my favour, Peter's dice rolling reverted to its usual poor state and the Prussians found themselves without any morale either. Sadly that proved to be the high water mark for the Russians and for me the tipping point was when I was one initiative pip short of being able to heroically remove a unit of horse grenadiers from the firing line. In the end the major morale rules did their job and the Russian left flank disappeared leaving the game effectively over.

I'm still not sure about the scenario; it certainly needs more physical space behind the Russian defences. Probably, the top reason for the Prussian's success was their ability to effectively fire their muskets twice as often as the Russians. The latter would have been better in melee, but never got the chance. Most of the wrap-up discussion centred on possible rule changes for morale and Cossacks. A consensus was achieved: give a try to my suggestions on morale challenges, yet another version of major morale, and moving back a bit on the previously proposed amendments to Cossacks. The current plan is to try these out next week.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

The whole vibe of everything

I'm going to try to avoid abuse for not being sufficiently appreciative of Elkie Brooks by sneaking mention of it in with a load of other stuff. In fact I seem to have also overlooked having seen Gilmore and Roberts recently. I rather liked them, make your own mind up:

The wargaming annexe was unaffected by the floods in Otley. The houses that ended up underwater were those that have a view of the river rather than of the A659 as the Casa Epictetus offers. The weather did disrupt travel somewhat, but nevertheless I made it to Leeds Art Gallery for British Art Show 8, a touring exhibition that takes place once every five years and which hasn't been to Leeds for twenty five years, or a generation as the publicity rather portentously says. Featuring forty two up-and-coming British Artists, it was mostly a load of old pony, with the only piece to which I would have given house room being 'On Nom Ore', a large hand-tufted wool wall hanging by Caroline Achaintre, that was so big that in fact I don't have enough room in my house after all. I chose the particular day that I went partly because it was when certain works were being interpreted in the galleries through the medium of music and dance by local students. This did not make things any better.

An unlikely and serendipitous result from the trip was that one exhibit, Linder's 'Diagram of Love: Marriage of Eyes' (literally a piece of old carpet that the artist found somewhere), made me realise what the device on Hastings' flag was meant to represent. That would be the first Baron Hastings, who has featured in all of my many refights of Tewkesbury and who has caused me every time to think "What on earth is that meant to be?". No doubt you already knew and are mocking me now; so be it.

Which brings us to Elkie Brooks. She was excellent. I can say no more.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Bad Penny Blues

I have, I'm sure, remarked here before that I have never understood why some wargamers are constantly rebasing their figures. It is therefore with some embarrassment that I have undertaken something even more pointless, I am reworking some of the markers that I use for indicating, for example, unit type and strength. I have two sorts, letters and numbers, both home made from adhesive craft stickers mounted on pennies in a base of filler. I had insufficient of some letters, but have now tracked down some more stickers of the same typeface to extend the collection. At the same time I managed to find some numbers in the same font, which I have decided to use to replace my existing numbers, which are perfectly adequate in both quantity and appearance. The exercise will take quite some time and will leave me pretty much where I was when I started. Perhaps I am a proper wargamer after all .

Speaking of which, last night I was half watching a documentary about WWII tanks when my ears caught the words Sidi Rezegh. What followed was a very interesting few minutes on Operation Crusader which was memorably described by an officer of 5th RTR as 'a gigantic cock-up'. The comparison of the relative sizes of shells from the British 37mm gun found on the Honey with that from a German 88mm was frightening. I'm not suggesting we fight the scenario again though.

Here's some Humph:

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Fool if you think it's over

The observant among you will have spotted the song reference above, and indeed a review of an Elkie Brooks concert will follow in due course; as soon as I can steel myself for the subsequent, and inevitable, flood of comments from Elaine's biggest fan. Instead the title alludes to the current game ongoing at James', which appeared to have ended in a resounding defeat for the badly generalled Russians - that would be me - but then leaped from its deathbed to continue into the third act just like an operatic soprano.

James has chronicled the first week here, and as he was taking loads of photographs will no doubt write up last night's second week, so I will only make a few general observations. (By the way, any readers with OCD prepare yourselves for some pain and discomfort because experience tells us that he won't write up the concluding evening at all.) So, it was the usual good fun, full of the normal swings that Piquet gives. I rolled the worst set of officers I can remember so haven't tried to rally very much, and at one point rolled about ten threes in a row on a variety of size of dice, but overall it flowed along reasonably evenly.

On the downside - and I know James won't mind a little criticism; despite apparently having been promoted recently from wargaming aristocracy to wargaming demigod - I'm not sure about the scenario. It rather relies on the Russians switching their forces around and/or counterattacking with their left flank, and they don't have enough Infantry Move cards to make it work in practice, or enough space behind their barricades to move around in even if they did.

There was much debate about Cossacks, and I agree they still seem to be too powerful. They can be rather good at shooting down flanks, although I suppose the moral there is don't let them get on one's flank. James made one of his trademark mid-game rule changes regarding their ability to close with enemy units; indeed he actually made the alteration mid-charge, which seemed a bit harsh to me. If I understand the new rules - and I'm frankly not confident that James is very clear on them, so I'm not sure what chance Peter and I have - things have now gone too far the other way. If we started over again with the current rules then at the earliest opportunity I would move all the Cossack units off the table and save myself the morale chips for losing them; and whatever one thinks of their fighting abilities I suspect that wasn't what he had in mind when he painted them. My own preference would be for their chances of closing to be dependent on the state of the enemy unit and the direction from which it's approached. I'd also make the penalty for failure becoming disordered rather than becoming shaken.

Which brings me nicely to the morale rules in Piquet, or, to be more precise, the morale rules in the version of Piquet currently being played (provisionally entitled "When life gives you lemons, squirt someone in the eye"). I don't like them. The original rules seem to have been designed so that a small game would come to a definite conclusion one way or another in an evening, which is fair enough. But they've been bastardised to such a point that they now lack - in my opinion - any real internal consistency or validity as a game mechanic. There, I've said it.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Psalm 116 Verse 3



"The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow."

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

It's a New Orleans thing

“There are only two things: love, all sorts of love, with pretty girls, and the music of New Orleans. Everything else ought to go, because everything else is ugly. ”  - Boris Vian

Indeed it is. Farewell, Allen Toussaint.

And you might recognise this one:

Tuesday, 10 November 2015


I very much admire those blogs where regular progress reports are provided of what has been painted. No similar update is provided here simply because nothing much ever seems to get painted. However, I am happy to report that the dozen Hamian archers and the Celtic chariot have finally been based - the painting was largely finished some time ago - and their place has been taken in the cupboard by another dozen Hamian archers. The cupboard in question is the one in which the painting tray spends the vast majority of its life; it's actually beneath the boiler so I pretend to myself that it is in some way a sort of extended drying process.

The archers in question are a mish-mash of Roman bowmen from various manufacturers. Many of their colleagues have been converted to Ottoman forces to serve at the siege of Constantinople, but those remaining have been dragged from the plastic mountain to give some variety to To the Strongest! battles. They are Hamians mainly because that's what's pictured on Plate A of Osprey Men-at-Arms 93 'The Roman Army from Hadrian to Constantine' (not the picture above by the way which was lifted from here). Extremely rudimentary research on my part (although not Wikipedia on this occasion) indicates that one theory has them in Britain as hunters, whose main role was to provide meat and game to other troops. That suggest a possible use for them in the Romans in Britain rip-off of Pony Wars, for which I am keen to develop a hex based variant. And finally, on the subject of Hexon, I have bought some more.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

So I wait for you like a lonely house

Till you will see me again and live in me
Till then my windows ache


                                 if each day,
                                 each hour,
                                 you feel that you are destined for me
                                 with implacable sweetness,
                                 if each day a flower
                                 climbs up to your lips to seek me,
                                 ah my love, ah my own,
                                 in me all that fire is repeated,
                                 in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
                                 my love feeds on your love, beloved,
                                 and as long as you live it will be in your arms
                                 without leaving mine.

                                           - Pablo Neruda

Friday, 6 November 2015

It's not cricket

 "Apart from the known and the unknown, what else is there?" - Harold Pinter
Apart from the known and the unknown, what else is there?
Read more at:
Apart from the known and the unknown, what else is there?
Read more at:
Apart from the known and the unknown, what else is there?
Read more at:

And so to the theatre. Sometimes there is a serendipitous juxtaposition of plays that one sees and so it is that shortly after 'Godot' comes 'The Birthday Party'. Pinter was clearly influenced by his fellow Nobel Laureate despite somewhat more happening in this, his second play, than in Beckett's. Having said that, one is left slightly unclear exactly what it was that occurred, the audience ending up in the kind of mental fog that engulfs Meg Boles throughout. Pinter reputedly told one director that it was all about cricket and was also supposed to have told an actor who asked why his character behaved as he did to mind his own business.

The director and actors involved here had made their own decisions and the piece was finely acted. Comedy - even 'comedy of menace' - isn't easy, and the play's descent from banality to absurdity makes it even more difficult, but their timing was excellent. One quibble might be that McCann is surely meant to be an Irish Catholic, whereas James Bell's accent was absolutely spot-on Ulster Protestant, to the extent that one wondered where the bowler hat was. Making things even more disconcerting for this member of the audience at least was that the actor playing the deck chair attendant chose to make the character spookily reminiscent of a wargaming art-shop proprietor of my acquaintance.

Anyway, to me the interesting thing about art isn't so much that it teaches you anything about how one should live life, but that every now and then there is a flash of insight into how one actually does conduct oneself day to day. For me - and I accept that this may not resonate with others quite as much - Pinter achieves just that here: "You're a big, bouncy woman." says Goldberg to Lulu upon meeting her "Come and sit on my lap.".

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Napoleon's last victory isn't

I had set up the C&C Ligny scenario mainly to see how it looked, but we ended up playing it last night.
The emperor ponders how best to waste the Old Guard
The terrain is very robust despite not being clipped together as thoroughly as recommended by the manufacturer. The video on their website makes it look so easy, but it's really not; I gave up after pinging the clips around the annexe on several occasions. The fact that the hexes were smaller than the previous squexes not only made it look more cramped, but also made the players imagine there was less room for manouevre as well. I suppose we'll get used to it.

For the record, James' peculiar aversion to combined arms attacks resulted in a straightforward Prussian victory.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015


Did I mention that I have seen Spectre? What a terrible film; if you haven't yet had the misfortune to see it, then don't bother. I'll grant you that the five minutes before the credits are rather good, but after that it's just rubbish. How they can drag the thing out for so interminably long and still leave countless plot elements completely unexplained is beyond me. The script takes itself very seriously (except for the joke about the allocation of the car, which did make me laugh), raising all sorts of political, ethical and psychological issues and the treating them all in a trivial, superficial, intelligence-insulting manner. I feel somewhat conned by all the glowing reviews in the media, but I think thay can be explained by the repeated, self-referential allusions to other films, mainly Bond although others such as Indiana Jones get a look in; critics love to display their esoteric knowledge (yes I know, I know!). And why is the state of the art global surveillance system accessed via a VDU of the type that no one has used for thirty years or more, displaying big coloured typeface on a black background?

MI6 fights cyber-crime

On a more positive note I have been to see the Jon Palmer Acoustic Band, who are very famous if you happen to live in Otley. Despite that they are very good, in a Waterboys, Pogues, Billy Bragg sort of stylie and well worth checking out. Here's one of their songs, in honour of today's Prime Minister's Questions:

Posh boys talking bollocks indeed. They did a very fine version of Steve Earle's Copperhead Road, but I'm actually going to leave you with another JP written song and then some Waterboys, both just for Crumb:

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Les contes d'Hoffmann

And so to the opera. Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman was English Touring Opera's third offering last week and very much lived up to its five star reviews. I've no idea whether the original stories by the doomed German Romantic author E.T.A. Hoffman made any sense - it possibly depends how far advanced the syphilis was when he wrote each of them - but they make no sense whatsoever linked together here. That of course does nothing but enhance their suitability for being turned into an opera and also means that the fact that the 1920s Hollywood setting for the framing first and final acts is inconsistent with that for the three tales sandwiched in between is of no importance either. (N.B. for a completely different perspective try the Guardian review.)

What really makes this production buzz is the highly amusing acting of  Warwick Fye as the various bad guys. And the singing is good as well: from him, from Sam Furness as Hoffman - who really gives it some welly, as a good tenor should - and from Ilona Domnich, as easy on the eye as on the ears. Also excellent is Louise Mott in a number of roles, but it's a mystery as to why, while playing Nicklausse, she is dressed as Billy Bunter. I think I neglected to mention when reviewing Pelléas and Mélisande that Yniold appeared to be dressed as Wee Jimmy Krankie. Someone in ETO's design team seems to have a thing for women in boys' school uniform.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Hexon II for C&C

With all due apologies to Crumb it's time for some more wargaming. As previously mentioned I bought some of Kallistra's Hexon II at Fiasco. I suppose my main intention is to use it to build terrain flexibly for all rule sets rather than use it specifically for hex based rules. However, I haven't bought a lot so far, partly because I don't have a terribly good visual imagination and wanted to experiment before I commit to what elements to buy, and partly because I had travelled into Leeds on the bus and couldn't actually carry very much. In fact the box I bought was somewhat trickier to carry than I had anticipated and I ended up walking through Leeds a bit like George Lazenby in the old Fry's chocolate adverts.

Anyway, notwithstanding my ultimate intentions I have set up the boards that I currently have for C&C Napoleonics; it's the Ligny scenario. It all looks a bit lost in the middle of the table, although there will be plenty of room to put the rules and fizzy drinks, and to roll the dice. The whole thing has now clearly abandoned any pretence to be a wargame and stands proud as a more aesthetically pleasing boardgame.

Observations are:
  • The sabot bases and unit identifiers fit well in the clear hexes, but it gets a bit snug when a commander is added. As a reminder these are 20mm figures with units of 9 for infantry, 4 for cavalry with guns based singly.
  • The individual hex hills are too steep for the sabot bases to sit comfortably, but the flexible slopes won't fit into the standard C&C scenarios. I never had this problem with the upside down paper plates.
  • My existing river sections, paper bridges and (some of) my charity shop sourced knick knack buildings work OK. I need more small trees. Town and forest hexes need to be marked with coloured felt because the buildings and trees will have to be taken off if one wants to get any troops in the same hex.
  • Line of sight is line of sight; neither complex mathematics nor constantly referring back to the map are any longer required.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Pelléas and Mélisande

And so to the opera. English Touring Opera are presenting three works in Harrogate. I passed on Massenet's Werther, mainly because the eponymous protagonist is so insufferable, but also partly because I made the mistake of going to see the very disappointing Spectre instead. But I did catch Debussy's version of Maeterlinck's 1893 play. I always welcome the chance to see opera in a smaller theatre and musically and vocally it was very good. The stage designs are necessarily built around transportability, but I felt they worked less well. The window in the castle tower wasn't really high enough or big enough for the Rapunzel style hair letting down and then there was the filing cabinet which lay on its side centre stage throughout. The opening and closing of various drawers to represent wells, caves, gardens etc sort of worked until late in the second half, when the top drawer was opened for the first time and a pile of papers spilled out. It was impossible to tell whether they represented anything in particular or whether someone had just forgotten to take them out.

And what things represent is rather important here. The original play was 'symbolist'; in other words everything has a deeper meaning than that being acted out in front of us. I think - and don't quote me on this - that this one's about some things ending and other things beginning, whether we want that to happen or not. I saw echoes of Tennyson's views on the death of Arthur and the end of Camelot ("The old order changeth, yielding place to new"). Maybe that's all tied up with the mock medieval setting; maybe I'm just talking drivel. From our modern perspective it's always tempting to assume that fin de siècle (both temporally and artistically) implied some sort of intuitive awareness of the onrushing global conflict.

Whatever, I actually prefer to draw my lessons from the story as told on stage rather than looking behind it. The recital of infidelity and jealousy provides an interesting juxtaposition with both The Winter's Tale, seen on the same stage recently, and, once again against a background of impending and inevitable social change, the contemporaneous Uncle Vanya. For me, there are two pivotal moments: when the adulterous lovers first acknowledge how deep their feelings for each other are and understand that they are reciprocated; and then, when perhaps inevitably they are discovered and await whatever fate will bring, Pelléas cries "All is lost, all is won".