Sunday, 31 January 2016

Secrecy Protested

FEAR not, dear love, that I'll reveal
Those hours of pleasure we two steal ;
No eye shall see, nor yet the sun
Descry, what thou and I have done.
No ear shall hear our love, but we
Silent as the night will be ;
The god of love himself (whose dart
Did first wound mine and then thy heart),
Shall never know that we can tell
What sweets in stol'n embraces dwell.
This only means may find it out ;
If, when I die, physicians doubt
What caused my death, and there to view
Of all their judgements which was true,
Rip up my heart, oh ! then, I fear,
The world will see thy picture there.

                         - Thomas Carew

Saturday, 30 January 2016


That last post was a bit wargaming heavy so perhaps it's time for some waffle and digression. I could do with some light relief as I'm recovering from a truly tedious and futile journey to Birmingham and back through the teeth of Storm Gertrude. When I tell you that the highlight of the trip by a considerable margin was a Greggs sausage roll you will understand exactly how bad it was.

On the way back - during which I had to stand for the whole journey - I finished the latest 87th Precinct novel on my kindle (I have come late to McBain, but am relishing them) and having left my WWI trench research at home, I turned to the first of the Sharpe books. I had bought this in a weak moment when Amazon offered it at a big discount - presumably to tempt me into reading the rest at full price - and never got round to starting it. Having done so I didn't like it and shan't be finishing it. It's by no means impossible to do this sort of thing well (e.g. Patrick O'Brian or C.S. Forester), but this is poor stuff.

On the up side I have been to see Giles Hedley and the Aviators who were rather good. Hedley himself is perhaps too posh to make a totally convincing bluesman - although he did apparently once open shows for both Son House and Mississippi Fred McDowell - but they make a fine noise. They cover all the usual bases: House himself, Howlin' Wolf, Sleepy John Estes, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton and no doubt others I've forgotten; but they do it very well. The drummer, Sam Kelly, is unbelievably cool (and talented; if you've ever listened to Craig Charles you may have heard Cymande, of which Kelly was a founder member) and Hedley is the only man I've ever seen play two harmonicas at once, by nose and by mouth. A very good evening was made even better when I won the raffle.

The younger Miss Epictetus and her boyfriend continue to wreak mayhem across South East Asia. In the latest episode, said boyfriend has apparently chundered over an entire extended Bengali family while they were peacefully enjoying some folkloric Cambodian entertainment. In the version of the story relayed second hand to me by the elder Miss Epictetus, the recipients of his, shall we say, illness were in some unspecified way responsible for their own misfortune, but, whilst I am as prone to stick up for my children as any father, I'm not entirely sure that I buy that.

And now some random music, in no way reflective of my frame of mind:

Thursday, 28 January 2016


There has been wargaming. The scenario is over at the Olicanalad's Games blog and hopefully some sort of report with photos will appear there as well. Last night saw two turns played through, which couldn't have been more different. On the first Peter, as the Austrians, quickly moved his light troops forwards. It looked as if we were in for a repeat of the recent game where my march columns got caught on the roads before getting a chance to deploy into the buildings. The Austrian cavalry also swept threateningly towards the still limbered Prussian artillery. Then came turn two and everything changed. I got an embarrassing amount of initiative and far from scrambling to occupy the town I was able to march straight through and deploy on the other side. My guns unlimbered and the Austrian cavalry withdrew circumspectly.

On the down side, I did listen to James' advice regarding attacking, casting aside the hard earned lessons of many years experience in the process. I did it essentially because I always like trying out unusual rules and this one was so obscure that a cynic might imagine that he had made it up on the spot. Anyway, for better or worse I am now minus one unit of Hussars while a second is occupying a village and a third has crossed the stream only to find itself outnumbered. If I can continue my run of initiative then maybe I can move some support up across the stream and extricate the cavalry from the village; otherwise advancing Austrian infantry may make things difficult. The forces for both sides are now on table and next week should see some heavy action.

In other hobby news:
  • James' new roads are excellent.
  • James' new space junk looks exactly like two razor blades stuck back-to-back.
  • I have ordered a shed load more Hexon terrain to pick up at Vapnartak.
  • My search for a painting project is leaning very much in the direction of WW1 trench raids, even to the extent of having bought a couple of books to read. However, and as readers of wargames blogs know more than anyone, the menu is not the meal and the map is not the territory.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Nearer My God To Thee

"It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." -Eleanor Roosevelt

The last boardgames of the month have been packed away into the box, eighteen different ones in total. In an (almost) exciting development the last of them hit the table in the dark as an extended power cut blacked out Otley. I am pleased to report that, in the finest tradition of the orchestra on the Titanic, we played on. Our only reaction was to switch to Werewolves, officially because it better suited the gloomy ambiance, but I suspect in reality because, as with at least one of my other hobbies, one's standards inevitably slip when the lights go out.

On with the games:

Boom: Runaway: Odd though enjoyable game about smuggling bombs out of the arsenal before they can be used. It's strangely difficult to explain its rules despite them actually being rather simple.

Codenames: A surprisingly fun game even when the spymaster on your team is crap. Do you hear me? Crap!

Condottiere: I finally found someone who doesn't like this game. However, for any wargamers reading the blog by mistake and who don't know Condottierre, you need to check it out.

CS Files: Or possibly really called Deception: Murder in Hong Kong. A new variant on the deduction/hidden identity shtick although I enjoyed this one. It's a bit random, and the majority side always seems to win, but it doesn't out-stay its welcome. There are some imaginative possible murder weapons, although the old Cluedo favourites also make an appearance.

Elysium: I won this by such a distance that I can't help thinking that I may have been doing something wrong. It's a good game (interesting and innovative mechanics, sufficient player interaction, nice length) that I'd like to play more often, but which has suffered from the constant temptation to play shiny, new games.

Good Cop Bad Cop: Possibly my favourite of its type. I think it's because the roles can change, although having said that the same concept doesn't help Werewolf much.

Hau La: A three dimensional plant building game (as in flowering plants), the best strategy for which is a complete mystery to me. Completely different to anything else and enjoyable.

Lifeboat: This is a nice card game with bluffing, secret objectives and - happily - plenty of duffing up one's fellow players. I liked it, although that's maybe because I armed myself with a flare gun early on and challenged the others to try it if they were hard enough.

Lords of Waterdeep: A very good worker placement game with a notoriously thinly applied theme. One of the players this time round tried to re-introduce the theme by referring to warriors, wizards etc rather than orange, black etc. He got laughed at.

Mission: Red Planet: I'm not sure whether this is a new game or not. It's a steampunk type space exploration effort with little astronauts yomping around Mars and Phobos. It's rather like Libertalia with a very limited number (ten to be precise) of card plays made during the game. I picked up my cards too often; I should have been bolder.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf: At least we didn't play with the Insomniac.

Operation F.A.U.S.T.: Coup meets any number of set collection games. A bit ho hum.

Power Grid: The Stock Companies: It all bears no relation to the real stock market; as someone pointed out this is entirely about insider dealing. On the other hand the base game is not much like how real power grids are built either. The base game is better.

Red7: Cracking card filler; highly luck dependent, but enough decisions to make one feel one is doing something skillful.

Sail to India: This is a very good game, and certainly a complete snip at the half price that Travelling Man were recently selling it at. It's better with four players.

 Skull: A fine, fine game.

Survive: Escape from Atlantis!: I've loved this game for years. It has to be played really viciously.

Tiny Epic Galaxies: This is a good game, all the better for the rules being explained properly this time round, albeit by someone who was playing in our first inept attempt at teaching ourselves. My own performance on this occasion was truly, truly dreadful.

Wot? No Quartermaster General?

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Le bonheur des méchants est un crime des dieux

"Cruel leaders are replaced only to have new leaders turn cruel." - Che Guevara

And so to the opera. Opera North have served up another fine slice of verismo in Giordano's Andrea Chenier. Inevitably the tone is black, though speaking personally I can't really see the downside of feckless, ci-devant aristos getting their heads chopped off. This style of late nineteenth century Italian opera is very much to my taste and, especially as well performed as it is here, easily overcomes the somewhat ridiculous plot. The truth referred to is of the emotional variety rather than the realistic.

So what is this plot? It involves two senior Jacobins who are ill-advisedly enamoured of Maddalena de Coigny, one of the very parasites that they have just overthrown. If simply being the daughter of a count wasn't enough to condemn her in the eyes of all right-thinking people (hint: it is) then her behaviour subsequent to the revolution certainly would be. Claiming to be penniless she encourages her maid to work as a prostitute to support them both, only to be revealed as having money and jewels stashed away all the time. These she uses to bribe her way to her final self-indulgent self-sacrifice. She obviously hadn't read his poems.

"Le moment d'être sage est voisin du tombeau." - André Chénier

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Mercy sakes alive

Last night we played the convoy scenario from the Lion Rampant rule book. The result was positive for the rules, but negative for my translation of the scenario to the tabletop.

The picture above is extremely uninformative on both counts, but, alas, I still have no camera. My mistake was - as Peter pointed out as soon as he saw the set up - to have the convoy start off table. I did try to ameliorate this, but it didn't work; I should have stuck more closely to the version in the book. The game pitched some undefined central European Holy Roman empire types trying to take a convoy of equally vague  treasure across the table while some Ottoman raiders tried to steal it. We used most of the special rules, and while James' braveheart leader saw off the head sipahi following a personal challenge it was too no avail. He ran out of missile troops and faced being whittled away as he moved forwards without being able to reply.

The rules appealed to me for a number of reasons when I read them, all of which were, I think, validated upon playing them:
  •  I could play them with stuff that I already had. Though written for singly based figures there didn't seem any real reason why they shouldn't be played with stands. We simply counted each element of two cavalry or four infantry as two hits and marked units which were carrying one. We had a bit of debate about the required gap between units, but I think that's also no real problem.
  • They address a scale of game that appeals to me. I read a number of blog reviews of the rules before playing them and was taken by one observation - sadly, and as usual, I can't remember where from - that historical skirmishes involve dozens of figures and that most 'skirmish wargames' are really pub fights. Now I love a large scale battle in the legendary wargames room of James 'Olicanalad' Roach as much as the next man (1), but I also like the raid/ambush type of game and haven't always been convinced that the same rules - facings, formations, manouvre, etc - work for both levels.
  • They give a chance to get out some toys that I have enjoyed modelling, but which don't really fit into a large battle environment. In this case it was wagons and pack animals, but believe me I have some strange stuff stored in the annexe. My Janissary marching band may make it to the table yet.
  • They seemed easy to play. Whilst there was the usual rifling through the book looking for the appropriate section, I can't remember playing a new set of rules where we had less retracing of steps because of an obvious mistake we had made. 
  • They would appear to be easy to tweak for different periods. I think the melee combat mechanism will work for my Romans in Britain rip off of Pony Wars better than the one we were using, and I've seen, for example, an ECW version.
 So, they were - in my book at least - a success. As ever, I'm not sure when they will be back on the table because James has some rubber roads to test, and the next game in the annexe will be likely to feature the new C&C Napoleonic expansion.

(1) except possibly Sidi Rezegh, which I reserve the right to like slightly less than the next man.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Bennett is back

And so to the cinema. I'm on a roll with my resolution to see more films, although to some extent I'm still in catch-up mode. I have been to see 'The Lady in the Van', and was most entertained. It's been out for a few weeks now and I was the only person in a 250 seat screen, which was somewhat disconcerting; although I'm sure I could get used to private screenings in due course. As regular readers will know I like a bit of Alan Bennett and this is a fine example of his work. He actually makes a cameo himself - possibly to dispel rumours of his death - and for added value the actor playing him doubles up, often appearing on screen with himself. On top of that we have the marvellous Maggie Smith in the title role. Excellent stuff which I was pleased to say included a chunk of untranslated French dialogue.

'Allo, 'Allo

Speaking of readers, this blog's have declined significantly in number. I'm not referring to the arbitrary peak at the time of the sultry woman in uniform video. I'm talking about the fact that the numbers have suddenly halved from the previous normal run rate. This doesn't actually bother me. I am - how shall we say - philosophical. Ceux qui restent sont évidemment la crème de la crème.

And speaking in turn of philosophy, I should like - as a leading Stoic thinker - to offer some advice. This is intended mainly for the boyfriend of the younger Miss Epictetus, but may possibly find some resonance with a few of my remaining readers. It is this: the best way to avoid having one's money stolen from one's trousers while dancing and singing onstage at a ladyboy show is not to take one's trousers off in order to dance and sing on stage at a ladyboy show. You're welcome.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Don't ignore the reaper

I have been delinquent in paying my respects, so here is a catch up:

First, Hawkwind wherein Stacia redefines the word 'dancer':

Second, and needing no introduction:

Third, in admiration of Robert Stigwood's management techniques:

Fourth, Alan Rickman reads Dante to a much younger woman. If it's good enough for Colonel Brandon then it's good enough for me:


Wednesday, 13 January 2016

You better you bet

I've been reading the rules to expansion #5 of C&C Napoleonics and like the look of both the enhanced role for leaders and the Tactician cards. It seems to me that the issue with commanders in C&C is whether to try to mimic actual Napoleonic command structures (see MS Fwa and his little coloured blocks) or just to use them as another fairly abstract game mechanic that adds some complexity and depth. In any event, I'm not sure when the new rules will get a run out, but I have desleeved the old cards and dug out enough sleeves to deal with both the larger Command deck and the Tactician card deck so at least no more expense is required. I complained about the wrong name on the parcel situation and they refunded my postage, so how about a shout out to Boardgameguru for excellent customer service after all.

Right, I'm off to Burton-on-Trent for a couple of days so let's have some music to see me off.

You better bet your life

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Sonnet 116

This is a big Shakespeare anniversary year, so let me get in early. This isn't one of the sonnets that he dedicated to his mysterious 'Dark Lady', but if any other dark lady is reading she can assume it's for her.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved. 

                             - William Shakespeare

Monday, 11 January 2016

Let loose the hats of war!

As one would expect I've been watching 'War and Peace'. The production raises many important questions about the human condition and I have been wrestling with one in particular: would I prefer to wear Ade Edmonson's hat or that of Jim Broadbent? I have tassel envy. By the way, Prince Vassily Kuragin is the spitting image of a chap that I used to know very well indeed some thirty five or so years ago. Admittedly he never dressed like that when we went to Griffin Park, which is a real shame now I come to think about it.

"Up the Bees"

Channel 5 have another historical documentary series worth watching, although this one is sadly presented by a proper historian rather than a glove puppet. It's about the Wars of the Roses, despite being bizarrely titled 'Britain's Bloody Crown'. I'm not sure what those in North Britain who weren't directly involved in the affair make of that. Anyway, I found it very interesting, but had some reservations regarding the reconstructions, especially what the various participants had on their heads while fighting. In the case of the main players - York, Warwick (whose father Salisbury was notable mainly for his absence), Somerset etc. - this was nothing at all. No wonder so many of the aristocracy perished during the conflict. In the case of the hoi polloi it was some odd conical efforts that rang no bells whatever with me. I suspect they were props left over from something else, perhaps a programme about Genghis Khan.

In other news,  my copy of Command & Colours Expansion #5 has arrived despite a heroic effort on the part of Royal Mail not to give it to me. In this particular case it wasn't their fault so much as that of the vendor who had put the wrong name on the parcel thereby making it impossible for me to produce valid ID to collect it from the sorting office. A review - of the game, not the inefficiencies of the supplier's dispatch department - will follow in due course.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Say adios to your huevos!

And so to the cinema. I promised myself to watch more films this year and what better place to start than with Quentin Tarantino's latest 'The Hateful Eight'? Even I'm expecting some sort of joke there - and I'm doing the writing - but I'm serious; it was rather good and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The BBFC describe it as containing 'strong bloody violence' and, well, they are spot on. I'd like to suggest that the violence is offset by some sort of moral message, but if it is then it went over my head. I'm not sure that Tarantino does spiritual journeys or redemption, but he does do cracking dialogue and well staged set pieces. And gore.

If I have any quibble it is that there is a bit of a hole in the plot regarding the explanation for the absence of the driver of the first stagecoach to arrive at Minnie's Haberdashery. Considering how tightly plotted the rest of it is, with all loose ends tied up by the end (however implausible the tieing up), that does stick out a bit. And if I had a second quibble it would be that for bounty hunters the Major and Ruth seem remarkably ill-informed about people who might have a bounty on their heads. Minor issues though, that don't stop me recommending it to all but the squeamish.

One of Tarantino's trademarks is playing homage to other films and there have been a number of suggested influences bandied about, most notably 'The Thing', which I've never seen and therefore can't comment about, plus the television shows 'Bonanza' and 'The High Chaparral'. I'd like to offer another: 'Calamity Jane'. Fewer songs and more blood perhaps, but I defy you to watch the film and tell me that I'm not right.

Thursday, 7 January 2016


A number of readers have been kind enough to post appreciative comments on the blog, for which I am very grateful. The reality is that I write entirely for my own benefit. Like many others I am prone to depression and find the creative element of blog writing to be a useful tool in managing my mental health. Hence the self-indulgence of choice of topic and varying degree of seriousness with which they are dealt. There are also periods when inspiration doesn't strike very often. Cyril Connolly famously said that the enemy of good art was the pram in the hall. Overlooking the fact that this isn't art of any quality I am, of course, too old for such concerns. Maybe in my case it is the love of a good woman that causes the problem. Or perhaps the occasional company of several bad women.There are only so many hours in the day.

Anyway, on with the post. There have been mixed reactions to my assertion that we live in a Stalinist society. There was some supporting evidence from Prufrock (see his comments on yesterday's post) and some raised eyebrows elsewhere. For those who are interested I have written more here.

And, in an unexpected return to the ostensible purpose of this blog, I have a couple of pieces of Command & Colours Napoleonics news. Expansion 5 has arrived in the UK and my order has therefore gone in. It won't be delivered very soon however because in keeping with my frugal nature I have only paid for second class delivery. What did arrive in this morning's post were the wooden C&C Napoleonic dice that I ordered before Christmas from Canada on eBay. It was as cheap to order three sets as two and they very kindly included three spares. I am now replete with the bloody things. I shall have to tweak the rules to require throwing handfuls of dice.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Who won the Cold War?

I have been asked to expand my recent comments on the Cold War. Now my only expertise on the subject is the fact that I lived through it, or at least from the invasion of Hungary to the fall of the Berlin Wall, plus of course what I learned at first hand from my tangential role in the US invasion of Grenada (to be absolutely precise my role was in the aftermath).

However, I am confident of one thing: whilst the Cold War was presented as a struggle between democracy and Stalinism which was won by the former, that is not what actually happened. In fact the Stalinists won and are ruling over us now, with their classic tools of surveillance, control of the media, propaganda and suppression of dissent.

"The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion." - Camus

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Events of the year (slight return)

My review of the year for 2015 passed unmarked except for a kind word from Tony Kitchen and a thumbs up from the big, bouncy woman herself. However, after a period a period of reflection and self-criticism I must add two honourable mentions to the previously published shortlist for event of the year.

The first was winning MS Fwa's mug competition, a rare moment of success in an otherwise under-achieving twelve months. The second is slightly more random; I nominate the occasion when a van driver knocked on the front door of my house and asked me to accept delivery of a coffin because he couldn't get any answer from the undertaker next door.

Here's some music that's as old as I am:

Friday, 1 January 2016

License My Roving Hands

 Let us start 2016 as we very much mean to continue:

To His Mistress Going To Bed

Come, Madam, come, all rest my powers defy,
Until I labour, I in labour lie.
The foe oft-times having the foe in sight,
Is tir’d with standing though he never fight.
Off with that girdle, like heaven’s Zone glistering,
But a far fairer world encompassing.
Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear,
That th’eyes of busy fools may be stopped there.
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime,
Tells me from you, that now it is bed time.
Off with that happy busk, which I envy,
That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.
Your gown going off, such beauteous state reveals,
As when from flowery meads th’hill’s shadow steals.
Off with that wiry Coronet and shew   
The hairy Diadem which on you doth grow:
Now off with those shoes, and then safely tread
In this love’s hallow’d temple, this soft bed.
In such white robes, heaven’s Angels used to be
Received by men; Thou Angel bringst with thee
A heaven like Mahomet’s Paradise; and though
Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know,
By this these Angels from an evil sprite,
Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.
    Licence my roving hands, and let them go,   
Before, behind, between, above, below.
O my America! my new-found-land,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man mann’d,
My Mine of precious stones, My Empirie,
How blest am I in this discovering thee!
To enter in these bonds, is to be free;
Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be.
    Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee,
As souls unbodied, bodies uncloth’d must be,
To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use
Are like Atlanta’s balls, cast in men’s views,
That when a fool’s eye lighteth on a Gem,
His earthly soul may covet theirs, not them.
Like pictures, or like books’ gay coverings made
For lay-men, are all women thus array’d;
Themselves are mystic books, which only we   
(Whom their imputed grace will dignify)
Must see reveal’d. Then since that I may know;
As liberally, as to a Midwife, shew
Thy self: cast all, yea, this white linen hence,
There is no penance due to innocence.
    To teach thee, I am naked first; why then
What needst thou have more covering than a man. 
                                                - John Donne