A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Sunday, 20 August 2017

Transpontine Again - Fighting at Stryker's

Marvellous day out yesterday - Stryker generously hosted another wargame at his country home, and I duly turned up for action, hair brushed and boots polished (or possibly vice versa). This time we were using Stryker's superb collection of Hinton Hunt figures and his own Old School rules, Muskets and Marshals. The Mysterious Goya was also present - I'm not sure if I am allowed to mention this, because of the security issue.


Any excuse to see Ian's soldiers up close is worth the trip, and Baroness Stryker produced a sumptuous lunch for us. The game was vigorous and a lot of fun. I got to command the French (I'm getting typecast, I think - could be something to do with the similarity between my nose and the French national cockade) and was rather lucky to scrape a victory - in fact, I wasn't sure I had won until I read Stryker's post, which I recommend you should peruse [click] as the authoritative summary of events.

Yet again I turned up without my proper camera, and yet again my attempts to capture moments in the day with my iPhone produced nasty, blurred results - apologies for my incompetence - I've included a few of the better of my pictures, but you should really look at Ian's (link above).

My elite voltigeurs spent much of the day bickering away with the boys from the
95th Rifles - that difference in effective range really is a bit of a problem, by the way

In a moment of misguided enthusiasm, my lancers charge the Cambridgeshire
regiment - I can duly report that the rules produced the sort of result you might have expected.
I just wondered...

Now there's smart - Stryker's lovely cuirassiers

Still trying to sort out those pesky Cambridge boys...

While, on the other flank, my Poles and Swiss make heavy weather of upsetting
the Black Watch
 
Most of my games of late have been on gridded tables - it was refreshing to get a change of approach. Ian's rules are not unfamiliar to me - I have fought with them before, last year, at his Grand Birthday Bash. He was good enough to take on the role of umpire yesterday, which helped greatly with the flow of the game for us trainees, and he kept feeding reserves into the game (from a hidden store) to keep things bubbling along. I enjoyed it all thoroughly - lots of colour and splendour in the uniforms, great handfuls of dice (what a treat that is!), good, traditional rule sections like saving throws and checks to rally unhappy troops, and lots of hands-on moving of soldiers (my wargames are mostly hands-off these days, because of the Higgins bayonets, but that's another story). There were lots of good moments to savour and to remember - Goya issuing commands in Dutch to his Dutch artillery, an almost unbroken run of successful Initiative Rolls for the French (which didn't quite make up for the ineptitude of my cross-eyed grand battery, which could not have hit "a coo in the erse wi' a banjo" to use an old Scots military term), and the freshly-baked Lemon Drizzle Cake which appeared during the afternoon tea break, of which the French command still speak in hushed whispers.

All in all, a most splendid day - once again, my thanks to Baron and Baroness Stryker and to Goya for their hospitality and company. On the way home, I drove into a mighty traffic jam approaching the Forth Bridge from the north side. I found that the queue was on the new roads leading to the brand new Queensferry Crossing (the "Third Forth Bridge" for those who enjoy rubbish puns), and for a wild moment I thought it might be open ahead of schedule, but of course we were all eventually diverted back on to the existing Forth Road Bridge. I hadn't thought about it before, but this may have been the last time I ever drive over the old bridge - after the new one opens, I believe the old bridge will be used for commercial and heavy traffic only. [I've been driving on the existing bridge since 1978, and I have to admit that I have never once driven across it without wondering nervously how strong it was - a concern which has become more pertinent in recent years.]



I might mention that my wife and son and I all have passes to walk over the Queensferry Crossing on Sunday, 3rd September - the weekend of the official opening. I understand that we'll walk across one way and be bussed back. This is a big deal from the security angle - we already have our barcoded official passes, complete with mugshots, and we are to carry passports. I'm confident I'll have something to say about this after the event, and on that occasion I really must try to remember my camera.

Hooptedoodle #273 - eBay - Going Cold Again

Hate it or love it, I have to admit that, without eBay and the availability of old, out-of-production wargame castings which it brought about, my own previous interest in wargaming and the collection of the paraphernalia associated with that hobby would never have been rekindled.

I'll say that again, just to emphasise the point - and the emphasis is for my own benefit, because I find this very easy to forget: without eBay, my former involvement in wargaming would have remained a closed book. The question of what else I might have done with my time and pocket money is a separate matter, strictly for discussion in the pub.

All well and good, but I have become aware of some changes in eBay - the markets have changed quite a bit, the systems and the procedures and safeguards have evolved in such a way that they now suit online dealers - people who really are doing this for a living - and my impression is that it has become harder-nosed. You have to be on your guard more, there are more tales of rip-offs.

That's only to be expected, I guess. As more and more people use eBay, the range of experiences will increase, and public appetite for tales of scams and doom and gloom will also grow. I read things and I nod, or shrug, or whatever; I experience things at first hand and I take serious note.

My experience of eBay over the last 15 years or so (I think it's about that) has been really very positive. Apart from buying and selling stuff that I've been interested in, I've also made a number of very solid friendships with people who share my areas of interest. In my case, this has mostly been miniature soldiers and military history books, and it is possible that these categories of buying and selling are dominated by older fellows who are reputable and straightforward; whatever, they seem to be less attractive to the crooks of this world. No-one, as far as I know, ever became rich quickly by buying and selling second-hand soldiers (though a few of us might feel that we have become somewhat poorer by the same process!). The dodgier bits of online auctions seem to be the mass, low-cost markets (like used clothing, for example), but also expensive stuff like computer games and technology and musical instruments - fields where enthusiasm and gullibility can outstrip caution and commonsense.


We recently sold an unused, unopened Sony PlayStation through eBay. It was a competition prize for which we had no real use, since my son's interests have moved on from such devices. The final sale was fine - the item was bought for a decent (though fair) price by a very nice fellow in Manchester, who bought it for his own son's birthday. Everyone was happy, but the risks are there to see. Two of the bidders we had cancelled their bids and pulled out during the course of this auction - something I cannot recall seeing before. In each case, remarkably, the bidder claimed to have accidentally entered the wrong amount - a justification for cancellation which is currently accepted by eBay.

Even more remarkably, each of these two bidders put in multiple bids, to cover themselves against subsequently being outbid (so they managed to enter the wrong amount several times), and each waited a few days - three days for one and four days for the other - before realising their error. We all know that what really happened was that they managed to buy one of these PlayStations elsewhere for a better price, and then cancelled the bid on our auction. Presumably this has become an accepted way of proceeding - if eBay allows it then we cannot complain - but it's outwith the spirit of eBay as I knew it, especially since other watchers and bidders (and there were quite a few) would be impacted. To me it seems, if not actually unethical, then certainly contrary to the traditions and spirit of eBay as a marketplace based on trust. If you attempt to welsh on a bid at Sotheby's, I promise you will be mightily embarrassed for your trouble.

It also became obvious that a good proportion of the people interested in our PlayStation were dealers - people who buy and sell for profit - which is fair enough. I'm glad it went to a private punter who actually wanted it - I realise that my approval is outmoded and probably irrelevant in the overall scheme of things.

Also recently, I attempted to dispose of a portion of my mother's vast library via eBay. I've bought and sold a lot of books on eBay in the past, happily and mostly fairly successfully. Whoa - not so fast. First of all, the market appears to have changed - prices for and interest in books have dropped - and most of the (relatively few) potential buyers were, in fact, dealers just looking to make a profit on resale.

I'd prefer to swerve the inevitable lectures on economics, so please give me a break if you suddenly feel such a lecture coming on - if that is the current market, then so be it. There may be all sorts of underlying trends which explain this, including demographics - oversupply generated by an ageing population with an increasing legacy of old books to unload onto a world that is possibly less interested in collecting or reading hard copy (or anything longer than a Tweet) - we will probably be forced to acknowledge the same trends in the toy soldier market one day soon. Whatever the reason, I gave up - nearly all of mother's books went to the Heart Foundation shop. It's a good cause after all (assuming the money finishes up in the right place - another topic for the pub), but the chief reason was that the effort and the minimal return of persisting via eBay, added to the hassle and the potential risks, made sale by auction impractical. I am no longer prepared to be messed around so much. Not for that kind of money, anyway.

Anyway - let's get to the point. I read in the Guardian of some poor chap who sold a guitar on eBay for well over £1000, it was paid for by Paypal and the courier delivery was signed for, but the buyer subsequently claimed that the case was empty on receipt and raised a dispute, which resulted in the Paypal payment being refunded - in these cases, it is simply a matter of the buyer's word against the seller's, and eBay and Paypal will normally find in favour of the buyer. Ah, you say, but the courier has the recipient's signature. That's not too promising either - this is only for receipt of some sort of package - damage or missing contents would not normally be discovered until later, and - maybe worst of all - if the buyer claims it is not his signature, there is not much can be done about it. There is a lot of this sort of stuff around, apparently. Worrying.

In how many ways could you be dissatisfied...?
I think I am finally convinced that my use of eBay will be firmly limited in future. I shall continue to look out for cheapish wargame items from established sellers, and I will happily continue to trade with people I know and trust, but the selling of valuable items is becoming unattractive. I can always insist on payment in cash on personal collection, of course, but since I live on the backside of the moon that is not really going to work.

I realise that my career on eBay has involved more retirals than Frank Sinatra, but I think this time I really am convinced that the game is pretty much up.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Elegance Creeps On - a little progress

Finally got the current batch of ADCs finished and based up. There is a bit of a risk with jobs which hang around - after a certain time (how long this is must vary from individual to individual, I guess) I sort of get used to the idea that they are not finished yet, and they can go into a state of limbo.

The replacement figure for Marshal Marmont [Art Miniaturen - henceforward AM]
 with his aides, who are both from Hagen
 
...and they leave as elegantly as they arrive

MS Foy [OOP NapoleoN casting] with his ADC [AM] 

Bertrand Clauzel with ADC [both AM]

And Antoine-Louis Popon, Baron Maucune [NapoleoN] with his new staff man [AM].
It is a source of regret to me that there are no known portraits of Maucune - I would
like to know more about the man. He was blamed (unfairly?) for the defeat at
Salamanca, and a couple of other items on his CV suggest that he may have been
very brave but more than a little dumb. It seems appropriate that my Maucune should
be flagrantly ignoring his ADC - reading and obeying orders seems to have been
something of a weak spot... 
Anyway, this is all about my new basing standard for general officers (or Leaders, as they are termed in C&C). I have a fair amount of rebasing to do, so first I have tackled the Armée de Portugal bit of my French army. Apart from the new Marshal Marmont, only the ADCs in these photos are new - the extant generals have just been rebased with their (regulation) staff allocation.

A bit of background here - my Armée de Portugal is based on Salamanca, and is represented by 3 overstrength infantry divisions (the real army had 8 understrength ones) - the cavalry allocation keeps the full establishment of 2 divisions, which suggests an over-provision of cavalry, but my cavalry are a bit weaker than the historic original.

I am unsure what to do with the cavalry division commanders - for this army, both divisions were headed up by a general de brigade, and in each case the gaffer was an ex-staff man, with no obvious cavalry background or affiliation. Accordingly, Messrs Boyer and Curto appear on my table in rather boring regulation dress - a bit lame for supposed sabreurs. I would prefer it if I had some rather more flamboyant figures to deploy - I'm working on it - but I suspect that they were not particularly interesting individuals. Pierre Boyer gained the nickname "Pierre the Cruel" because of his harsh treatment of guerrillas, and there is a nifty portrait sketch of him, with fancy braided jacket and whiskers. However, I would guess from the style of his goatee beard that this is a later picture, from his time in Algeria, where he maintained his reputation for shooting and torturing, probably generating more unrest than he cured.

Beyond that my French army continues with another force, which is a rather vague amalgam of the Armies of Catalonia, Centre and Midi - it's chief role is to fight the partidas, and give a place in the organisation to the more colourful Confederation and Italian troops, and King Joseph's own fine chaps (poor sods). I'll get to their generals shortly.

In the meantime, things are going well.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Hooptedoodle #272 - Not Much Here Either


With various disruptions caused by the continuing work of the house painter (and his frequent non-appearances) and other inconveniences, another fairly humdrum week has passed. My current batch of French ADCs is still not finished - any day now. Promise.

It occurred to me that I should trot out some routine listing of irrelevant stuff - just so you know I am still around - maybe it could be termed a miscellany. I shall limit this brief outpouring of trivia to two items - my editor will be pleased that I have restricted myself to the key house themes of Tragedy and The Social Whirl.


Topic 1 - RIP Steve.  I regret to say that Steve the Other Goldfish has passed away. Steve was never very lucky - he has had a long series of mysterious ailments, including problems with his eyes and some malfunction of his swim-bladder, and has been reputed to be on The Way Out for at least a couple of years. He got off to a bad start when he shared a fish tank with Jeff, who was much more robust and had a very bad attitude, and who spent some weeks roughing Steve up - sometimes biting him, sometimes merely knocking him about. Naturally we had to split them up, so since then we have had the dubious blessing of double maintenance, double overheads, and two separate tanks in different rooms.

Maybe, come to think of it, Steve was not so daft. He had a tank to himself, with all the fittings, and he was in a stress-free environment in which to perfect his one great talent, which was eating. However sickly he might have been, he grew far larger than we might have expected - thus, whatever problem Steve might be blighted with at any given moment, you could rely on the fact that there would be plenty of it.

He'd obviously been very unwell for the last few days, and we reached the point at which a strategic decision was required - the Contesse would place him in his little isolation tank, and we'd keep an eye on him. If he didn't buck up within a day or so, we would euthenise him - this being a politically-acceptable word, apparently, meaning snuff. [Quick aside, I am pleased, in an unfocused and probably irritating way, that "euthenise" and "euphemise" are such similar words - possibly we have the makings of an unusually pretentious and pointless joke here - I'll leave it with you.]

Right then - today's interesting field of research: how do you put your goldfish out of his misery, and still be able to live with yourself afterwards? After some online reading, our favoured suggestion was as follows (don't ever say this blog does not address the problems of real life):

(1) Add some drops of clove-oil to the water - this will put Goldie to sleep.

(2) After some minutes, add some vodka - this will kill him in his sleep. Painless. Humane.

The Contesse went off to buy the necessary supplies - we have neither of these exotic poisons in our storehouse. In passing, clove-oil is quite interesting - it has a long-held folklore role as a remedy for toothache, which as far as I'm concerned is very debatable - bollocks, in fact. Maybe killing goldfish is what it is really intended for, and the dental fallacy is just a cover story for the kids. Vodka? Hmmm. At least we can comfort ourselves that the little fellow will end his days free from toothache, and blitzed out of his tiny skull.

While she was out buying supplies, Steve, obligingly and astonishingly, did the one sensible thing he ever managed in a lifetime - he died peacefully, without assistance. Good for him. I buried him up in the woods behind the house this afternoon - without ceremony. Naturally we wish him luck on his way into the darkness, but we could hardly have laid on any celebration of his life - I'm not sure how much he noticed of it, and it was mostly dismal.

If I detect even the slightest whiff of clove-oil in my bath in the near future, I shall immediately be on my guard.



Topic 2 - Sylvia. On Saturday night I was at a birthday party - quite a big bash, really - mostly arty, cultured people - all very civilised - not my usual circles at all. While there, I bumped into Sylvia, whom I have known for over 30 years, now I come to work it out. A good egg, Sylvia, very loud and always cheerful, and eternally opinionated. Good value, in fact, though you have to cope with the fact that her conversation is mostly along the lines that her family are the wealthiest, happiest, prettiest and most successful people who ever lived. That's all OK - I think it is only right that the Sylvias of this world should be provided, to keep us humble, and to remind us of how we would like to have been, if only.

On Saturday, Sylvia was not well pleased. She is involved in a small circle of ladies who take it in turns to treat each other to cultural outings - one detects a slight edge of competition. Since it had been Sylvia's turn, she had been encouraged to get tickets for something uplifting in our local arts and music festival, which has been on recently. It was suggested that there was a very nice Italian operetta show which would be suitable, and, in a bit of a rush, she obtained very expensive tickets for it.

We may come up with any number of reasons or excuses, but it is obviously an easy mistake to make if you are short of time to check your facts; whatever, having duly turned up at the show in their concert-going finery, Sylvia and her friends now know for certain that The Rezillos are not an operetta at all, but an ageing punk band, and most definitely not to their taste. It would be mean-spirited to find this amusing, of course, but I feel that my efforts to keep a straight face and not choke on my vegetarian paella on Saturday earned me the right to enjoy a brief chortle now. In fact, I may run a bath, add some vodka, climb in and roar with [ignorant, common] laughter.


Friday, 4 August 2017

Hooptedoodle #271 - McKeown's Law of Collecting

We've discussed this stuff before, but I was rather taken by McKeown's Law, which comes in 3 parts. Though this law originates in the world of camera enthusiasts and collectors, it definitely has wider application. The picture is borrowed, shamelessly and without permission, from the excellent blog of Arnhem Jim, to set a context. If you have seen the Law before, here it is again - smile and move on.

McKeown's Law of Collecting 
1) The price of an antique or collectable is entirely dependant upon the moods of the buyer and seller at the time of the transaction.
2) If you pass up the chance to buy an item you really want, you will never have that chance again.

3) If you buy an item because you know that you will never have that chance again, a better example of the same item will be offered to you a week later for a much lower price!

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Hooptedoodle #270 - The Sock Cull

Time for another post about socks, I think. [No, no - terribly sorry, vicar - I said socks.]

Some time ago I published a lament about the state of modern socks. It was heartfelt (if that is an appropriate phrase) - I had increasing problems with shrinkage of the ribbing tops of socks, which tended to compress my lower calves (on occasions my lower legs would develop an ominous, waisted, hour-glass shape which I would prefer not to dwell upon, but you will appreciate this is far from ideal.


Bad Guys - and there's masses of them - they are GOING AWAY
The Contesse tried valiantly to obtain socks for me which were comfortable - with little success. Even when we avoided certain brands which we have grown to distrust, I regularly ended the day with sore swollen ankles and calf muscles. Ah, I hear you say - it is not the socks, it's your circulation - it is the ancient veins, the game pie, the chips, the beer, the Armagnac, the excessive salt, etc etc.

Not so. One cannot hold off the ravages of field rations and tempus fugit forever, of course, but the change is mostly in the socks themselves.  

Almost a year ago, we went on holiday to Mayrhofen, in the Zillertal, Austria. It was a good holiday anyway, but one unexpected bonus was that one day I picked up a pack of cheap socks in the Spar supermarket in the village - just off-the-shelf jobs to help out with the demands of hillwalking - and they were a revelation. If I'd fully appreciated them in time, I'd have bought a load more before we came home.

They are comfortable, they do not strangle my legs - they are terrific. They are, I believe, how I remember socks used to feel. Is it possible that Austrians just expect their socks to be comfortable? Is it possible that Mike Ash***'s crusade to to buy up reputable brands and make everything cheap and nasty has not yet reached the Tyrol? The questions, of course, are rhetorical, but one wonders.

Good Guys - the first of the "diabetic" socks [L] and one of the Austrian
cheapo pairs from SPAR [R]
Since then, a further discovery for me has been a whole new world of special comfortable socks - some of them made with bamboo fibre (which sounds faddy, but is OK), some of them marketed as "diabetic socks", which is new to me but I'm sure well known to people who need them. The Contesse has done admirable research in this field, and I am well pleased with the new arrivals.

Thus far I am still feeling my way - some of these are about £8 a pair, which is a bit steep by my usual standards, but we are discovering cheaper ones - the choice of colours is not all it might be, maybe. There are also hiking socks of the same type. Better and better.

This morning's delivery...

Just as an aside - how would you feel about marketing black socks badged "SS"?
A further shipment of the "gentle" socks arrived this morning, so I have had a quick look in the chest of drawers and have emptied out the old socks - and there are dozens of pairs. I shall reduce the stock to about 4 pairs of the conventional socks, and replace them with the new comfortable ones. Perhaps we'll recycle the rejects - they can go to any needy people who have very thin ankles, or maybe they can just go on the tip.  Either way, they are going.

That's worth a glass of wine with my supper, I think.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Replacement Marshal Marmont


Still on the regulation Tesco milk bottle top, and with his varnish still a little too shiny (it should calm down overnight), here's my new figure of Auguste Marmont, ready for basing. This is a recent Art Miniaturen figure - very nice sculpt - I can't remember who the casting was supposed to be - maybe Rapp - or it could be Berthier. Whatever, it is now Augie Marmont, one of the classic baddies of Napoleonic France. Offhand, I can only think of Bernadotte and maybe Talleyrand who would rate more boos and hisses in the Pantomime of the Emperor. [Oh, yes they would.]

Apart from having a remarkably bad day at Salamanca, and having had the sense to place the interests of his nation above those of his megalomaniac boss at the siege of Paris in 1814, Marshal Marmont fought well throughout his career, and he was also an exceptional administrator. I feel rather guilty about his compromised reputation - it is not helped by my own (MS Foy's) hatchet job on his standing as a general in my (Foy's) own history of the War in the Peninsular. No matter - history has made its judgement. This little metal version of Auguste looks confident enough. He can join his first ADC, and the second ADC will be along in a day or two.

The old Marmont figure in my collection will be recycled and will become Marshal Soult (also Art Miniaturen, the casting was always supposed to be Soult anyway), and I have something rather fancy in the way of an ADC lined up for that particular group. That will be a bit later. I attach a splendid, borrowed photo of a large figure of Marshal Soult's ADC, which has nothing at all to do with me, just to give an idea - you may imagine what my Old School attempt at painting a mounted 20mm version might be like, but you may feel free to admire my optimism...

Louis Brun de Villeret, Soult's ADC in Spain