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

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Hooptedoodle #296 - Suddenly Things Went Quiet

The weather has eased a lot over the last week, but today it is blustery, from the East, and the temperature is dropping again. The feeders are very busy - today's crowds included lots of Great Tits, Greenfinches, a Siskin, and then...

Bad Baddie in the garden - Accipiter nisus - female Sparrow Hawk (hungry; disgruntled)
We are always nervously aware of these fellows - you don't normally see them clearly, but sometimes out of the corner of your eye you see a flash of something, and a puff of feathers, and one of the smaller birds has gone. There is a slight feeling of setting up a buffet for the Sparrow Hawk when we restock the feeders, but we don't see much of them and that's Nature, I guess.

This is a rare view. The Contesse spotted this female sitting in our apple tree, and it was still there when she got back with her camera. We suspect that it's sulking, mentally reviewing what went wrong with that last attack.

You win some, and then you lose some.

***** Late Edit (Friday night, 16th March) *****

M. Le Poilu sent me this fine picture of Omar, his former local Sparrow Hawk kingpin - shows up well how much more colourful the males are (Merci, M. Le P)

And my wife passed me this rather horrifying confrontation between a Sparrow Hawk and a Starling, which is from the very fine work of Terry Stevenson, a British wildlife photographer with a large and deserved following. Sorry if this spoils your enjoyment of your supper...

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

20mm Figure Comparison - vintage Napoleonic figures vs SHQ

Mark emailed me on the subject of size compatibility of various 20mm and "true 25mm" figures, so I have knocked up another of those strange green comparison photos. Since I often get involved in this kind of conversation (and since my view is as subjective as everyone else's!) I thought the pic might be of wider interest.

The particular thread in my correspondence with Mark has been how successfully SHQ/Kennington figures might blend in with (for example) Hinton Hunt. As the photo shows, I think, they match pretty well, though you have to beware of the occasional midget, such as the Spanish hussar marked with an asterisk - for some reason I never understood, all the Kennington Spanish Napoleonics are a bit small.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

1809 Spaniards - Light Infantry Completed!

This morning I have two new light infantry units ready for action, so I am pleased to note that the original planned four such units are now finished. Another little milestone (as opposed to a millstone, which is a different thing altogether).

With skirmishers deployed
In close order - skirmishers tucked away at the back
These are the Voluntarios de Gerona (yellow facings) and the Cazadores de Barbastro (red). The castings are Falcata, apart from the marching officer and the drummer in Barbastro, which are NapoleoN. The Falcata figures paint up nicely, but the moulds were suffering badly when these chaps were produced, and it took a lot of filing and re-carving to get them into shape.

According to my (expanded) target OOB for the 1809 Spaniards, the only things I still have to paint are 2 battalions of grenadiers, 3 units of line cavalry, 1 of dragoons, 1 foot battery, a few more generals and ADCs and a small group of zapadores (individually based). Apart from elegances like limbers and some garrison artillery that's the lot, so I hope I can finish them this year.

Cazadores de Barbastro
Voluntarios de Gerona
In case they are useful, here are the flags for these units, which I have produced with Paintshop Pro - if you print them at about 20mm high (cut off the green bits!) that's near enough 1/72 scale - I would not recommend them for anything bigger than that. Feel free to use them, but if you share them or publish any pictures, I'd appreciate a mention!

A quick word on Spanish light infantry flags - these units each consisted of a single battalion, which carried the Coronela national flag; if they still had a Sencilla (battalion flag) left over from an earlier regimental organisation, it would be stored away in a church or a depot somewhere. There is a very tattered sencilla for the Barbastro unit still in existence, but by 1809 it was no longer carried on campaign.

Friday, 9 March 2018

A Weakness for Dragoons

This is going to be another of those how-high-can-you-pile-it? posts. Never mind the quality, feel the width.

Five years ago, give or take a day, I published a post celebrating (lamenting?) that I had acquired and refurbished another unit of French dragoons, despite the fact that I already had quite enough.

Welcome to the 26eme & 27eme Dragons - you will observe that the trumpeter
for the 27eme has not arrived yet - plans are in hand, and he should be present shortly!
Well, I've done it again - this time a further two such units. I could claim that, as a Peninsular War devotee, I can never have too many dragoons, or merely confess that I have a long history of having my head turned by a pretty regiment of the blighters. It maybe goes deeper than that.

When I was about 12 (or so) I was lucky enough to be granted a private tour of the Musée de l'Armée (my grandfather was a friend of one of the directors), and one of my most vivid memories of a fascinating but confused Sunday morning is suddenly being confronted by a life-size mannikin of a mounted Napoleonic dragoon, and being dumbstruck (you may well know the actual mannikin I mean - he's still there today, still scaring the kids). It had never occurred to me that soldiers were terrifying individually as well as collectively.

When I started building my Peninsular armies - 10 years or so later - I was enchanted by the PMD/Les Higgins French dragoons. My original quota was a brigade of two regiments, the 6eme (red facings) and the 15eme (pink!). Later I added a third - the 25eme (orange) - but that was it for Les Higgins - they went out of business. In the days before eBay, that was as far as things went - if your manufacturer (or scale!!) went OOP then you were well and truly stuck.

When NapoleoN Miniaturas were active I finally obtained the fourth regiment of the Armée de Portugal's Dragoon Division - the 11eme (crimson) - and then I was happy. Job done.

But then eBay took over, and still the new/old toy soldiers are trickling in. Five years after the last "final" recruits, here are two more. And I'm still pleased with them, and still delighted to have an opportunity to dig out that entire section of the army for a group photo.

My French dragoon contingent - a lot of eyes-right going on, to simplify the
mould-lines for PMD! If there are not enough horses in Spain to go around, then the
chaps at the front can jolly well walk.
Very silly, very self-indulgent and - really - what hobbies are all about. It would be a poor kind of a world if you were not allowed to have too many dragoons, would it not?

Saturday, 3 March 2018

First Round to the Beast

I used to have a boss whose catch phrase was "Don't spend much time telling me what you're hoping to do - tell me when you've done it". I'm sure this is identifiable as some labelled style of defective management (like the once-celebrated Mushroom Management, Fox-in-the-Henhouse Management and a host of other Nineties jokes which I'm sure no-one remembers now), but his approach did have some advantages. If I applied this principle to myself now, and I'm sure a lot of fellow wargamers are in the same situation, I'd often have very little to talk about.

The so-called "Beast from the East" [Donkey Award nominee] storm in the UK did eventually cause a postponement of our Marston Moor game - it was probably always a safe bet, but the hoped-for easing of the weather conditions on Thursday and Friday didn't happen, and this morning (Saturday, the official day for the event) the travel situation is still pretty awful - no trains, for one thing, and the country roads are not safe at all. Thus the logistics have killed us.

No problem - I've photographed the tabletop set-up in detail, I've put the (ready-labelled) armies in their box-files in exactly the same order they'll go back on the table, and I've put all the scenery elements in a box of their own, all ready to go; we can re-arrange the game later in the month. In the meantime, the Dining Room can be used for dining, as specified. I'd best make sure I've typed up all the scenario rules and features - you know - in case I forget...

Obviously I am a bit disappointed, but when Nature decides to take a poke at you she doesn't mess about, so let's get on with it. If I have to put my battle away in its boxes, then it's a good idea to put it away really well. There - that feels better.

I include a couple of photos, if only to demonstrate to Jonathan (who knows his snow) that we did get proper snow in the end. The road along the coast from our farm to the village has been impassable for two days, as has the road past the farm down towards the A1 and places like Dunbar, Haddington, Edinburgh, England - everywhere, really. This means that we, and the village of North Berwick, have been cut off from the Outside World for two days. Problem has been the type of snow, and the high winds. I'm not sure an idiot layman's description of snow is just what you wish to read today, but in our garden we had, at the most, maybe 20cm of very soft, puffy snow - like polystyrene packing beads, about the size of Rice Krispies. Because it was so cold it was very dry, and blew about in the wind.

That's someone digging out the main road from North Berwick to the outside world,
3pm Friday - 48 hours after it was cut off. I know these things are routine in Canada
and Russia, but we are not really used to this.
About a mile away, on what passes for a main road here, the east wind drifted this puffy stuff across what will later be wheat fields and it got trapped between the hedges, on the roadway. This is where the photos were taken - on the A198. I've never seen anything like this around here. The drifts also put the single-track railway to North Berwick under about 3 metres of snow in a cutting near Ferrygate, I'm told. Marston Moor is just one of a great many things which aren't going to happen today!

This is around the same spot, the road past our farm, Thursday morning, looking the
other way. Some people don't believe in the Red Weather Alerts, do they?
Forecast for next week is not brilliant, but seems to be wetter, which might be OK. I'm certainly pretty bored with what we have at the moment.

Must mention a classic manifestation of Sod's Law. Two nights ago a big chunk of the cement seal around the flue-pipe of our wood stove suddenly dropped out. That's never happened before, either. Of course, my stand-by tub of ready-mixed fire cement has set rock-hard, and, though they have shelves of the stuff in the hardware store in the village, we haven't been able to reach the village. Hmmm. Above the howling wind, I am certain I heard faint laughter.

***** Late Digression - PINBAT's revenge *****

Digger or not, the A198 is still not viable today, and it's still snowing. Apparently it is just about possible to get into North Berwick from Edinburgh (the opposite side from us) along the coast road from Longniddry, and so yesterday Tesco managed to get a truck to their supermarket here by coming that way, and driving through the town, since the usual route was blocked by snow. Just in time - supplies are running very low.

Now then, back in 2007, when it first opened, Tesco was the subject of a lot of local hostility here. I don't live next door to the place, so my view may be coloured by this fact, but I regard the presence of Tesco as a huge improvement in our quality of life. Whatever, at the time there was a fearsome militant movement - recruited mostly, it seemed, from the ranks of residents who commuted to Edinburgh everyday and thus spent little time here - named PINBAT (People in North Berwick against Tesco). The opening of the store was eventually secured after negotiations which yielded cash donations to the local community and also - I now learn - an agreement that Tesco's wagons would not drive through the town.

Well - guess what? Some superannuated survivor from PINBAT yesterday registered an official complaint that Tesco had broken the 2007 agreement by rerouting a supply van to avoid the blocked roads. Accordingly, Tesco sent this morning's wagon by the official route, up the A198, and it got stuck at the village of Whitekirk, as we might have predicted. Thus, people, there is no food in North Berwick today. 

Someone, somewhere, must think they've won a little victory. I sincerely hope the rest of the community don't find out who it was.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Hooptedoodle #295 - A Walk with the Beast from the East

It's been snowing here now for three days. By other people's standards, considering the severity of the current storm, our conditions are not bad at all, but we rarely get any snow here, which is probably an indication of what it must be like for the more exposed bits of the East coast.

The Contesse took her camera out for a walk on the farm this afternoon - she had some trouble holding the thing steady in the freezing wind, but here are a couple of her pictures, to prove there is still life here.

Cock chaffinch hanging on for grim death in the easterly gale, he has his eyes
fixed on our feeders
Down on the beach things are a bit rough; when we get strong easterly winds,
combined with the Spring tides, it is not unknown for the waves to wreck the
harbour of our nearest village
He's hiding, but still recognisable - in the hedges near the Old Adam field, the
Contesse spotted a male Yellowhammer [emberiza citrinella] - not so rare in these
parts, and they are here all year round, but we've never seen one! - not in all the
years we've been here. So, he's not in our garden, but he's still a bit of a star guest.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Hooptedoodle #294 - 37 Avenue Foch - Memory by Proxy

This may be difficult to believe, but I do try to stop my blog morphing into a personal diary. I think it is a tricky balance; I frequently see the work of others on social media platforms (especially blogs) and think to myself, "Ouch - I think I would have written that post somewhere private...", and then, of course, I worry a bit about the extent to which I already blur these (rather arbitrary) boundaries.

Whatever, please be assured that, though my writings are always going to be from a personal point of view, I do try to be a bit selective about what I put here. Having said which, I must warn you that this post is about some more family history, so it may be less enthralling to others than I find it myself.

My mother is 92, and is now in a care home, not far from where I live. We had a bit of a saga getting her there, but now it is going well; she is happy, she probably has more friends in the place than she ever had in her life, and she is warm, well-fed and well looked after. Of all the difficult decisions I've had to make over the years, that is maybe the one over which I've had fewest regrets.

I visit her about once a week, at some random time of day, so she can't accuse me of being late (!). She doesn't remember my visits anyway, and I find them rather hard work, though something I am glad to do. I don't suppose we get too many opportunities to care for ageing mothers, so I am getting the hang of things as I go along.

She doesn't walk now, and she cannot see. In both these respects, I am convinced it is mostly because she has decided that this is so. Certainly she had a recent eye-test that confirmed she has fair residual vision (she had a cataract op in the last 2 years) and that the prescription of her spectacles is correct. Problem is that she refuses to understand when to use her glasses, and doesn't expect to be able to see anything when she does. As the manager of the home put it, the problem seems to be one of process rather than a medical condition. No point disputing the matter - if she has decided she cannot see then she cannot see. I'm slowly getting used to this kind of thing.

She is usually in her bed when I visit. Not because she is confined to her bed, but she likes to listen to her radio, and that's a comfortable place to rest. At night she sleeps only a little (probably because she snoozes a lot during the day, though she denies this), and she says she is fascinated by the flow of her memories - she says it's like a cinema show. Certainly in recent weeks she has been rabbiting on about all sorts - mostly recollections of her childhood, in immense detail (bear in mind that she has no idea what happened yesterday, so the older stuff can run undisturbed).

Much of it I have heard before - some of it far too many times for comfort - but some of it is new. Because her parents separated when she was 10, I was brought up to accept some major distortions in the Official Family History. Many of the relationships, places and dates didn't line up very well. As a child you don't question these things. In recent years I've managed to get enough information to correct some of these old myths, so it has been something of an enlightenment.

It's OK - I'm not going to try to give a full run-down of the family history, but my mother has always been obsessed by the years she spent in Paris as a girl. They have had a great, looming influence over her entire life - more than would seem to make sense, proportionally - and I now realise that, since her parents separated in Paris, and her mother brought the children back to England in 1935, her entire recollection of a full family life is restricted to those few years. Her father's memory is certainly enhanced by the fact that she knew so little of him.

Definitely not Paris - this is Liverpool Pier Head, circa 1920 - the Liver Building is
the leftmost of the three big waterfront buildings
He worked, as a very young man, for Lever Brothers - for Billy Lever - the 2nd Viscount Leverhulme - of the family which originally made its fortune out of Sunlight Soap and which became Unilever. Grandfather worked in an office in the Liver Building, at Liverpool Pier Head. My mother was born in Liverpool in 1925, and her birth certificate gives her father's occupation as soap manufacturer's clerk. The company was very successfully importing palm oil and other products from Africa - mostly the Belgian Congo (as it was), and eventually grandfather was offered a job in Paris, working with a European subsidiary of Unilever. He was already married, with a family of three daughters, and in 1930 his wife and family joined him in Paris. My mother at this stage was 5, one year into recovery from a polio episode which has affected her entire life.

My grandparents, alas, did not get on. My grandmother did not like Paris, and does not seem to have cared much for my grandfather either - not least because he seems to have had a succession of lady friends (all of whom, it has to be said, appear to have been more interesting than his wife). By 1935 she had had enough, she brought the girls back to Liverpool. My mother's all-pervading 5-year upbringing in Paris ends there. She did not see her father again until he turned up at her wedding in 1945, and she did not see him after that until 1959, when she and my dad (incredibly, unbelievably) travelled to Paris from Liverpool on a 150cc Lambretta scooter, for a week's holiday. This visit was all a little awkward, since they were to stay with Grandpère, with his second wife and family, at his posh flat in Neuilly (Boulevard Bineau); my grandmother, who was child-minding me and my sister during their holiday, did not know this, and would certainly have been very upset if she had known.

And so the family story chugs on - I'll spare you any more. It's just another family story. The bit which has fascinated me recently was getting more light on my mother's Paris years - a lot of this was new to me.

Place de la Liberté, La Garenne-Colombes - rather before my mother's day
They lived in an apartment in the Avenue Foch, in La Garenne-Colombes. Because of the polio, my mum had treatments which meant that she was often unable to attend school, so she spent many of her most formative days surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of a strange city. She has told me of the baker's shop opposite - if she hung around there they would give her macaroons or galettes; she loved the smells in the woodworking shop next door, where they made big items of furniture. She had a friend who lived in a house on a corner opposite - a girl of about her age, and there was a big dog and a lovely garden to play in, but the girl seemed to be looked after by nuns, and one day she disappeared without explanation, though the nuns and the dog were still there. At the end of that section of the Avenue Foch is the Place de la Liberté, where there was a big library, a Catholic church and, in the Summer, a fairground. My mum and her sisters used to like to sit out on the little balcony of their flat and listen to the music and the sounds from the fairground.

The church was of interest to the children since there were two statuettes in the entrance - Jeanne d'Arc and the Virgin Mary - my mum preferred Jeanne - she seemed less austere, and she and her elder sister used to spend time relighting all the candles placed by these statues, until the priests chased them. Mum thinks that a whole lot of prayers must have had confusing outcomes as a result of the candles being messed about.

I've never been there, but a few years ago, when she was still able to understand these things, I used Google Maps to download some street views of Avenue Foch, and the first view was the door of No.37 - apparently unchanged since the 1930s. She was thrilled to bits, and we had a look around the area, courtesy of Google. It is clear that a lot of the area has been renewed, as you would expect, and there seems to be a market building where the fairground used to be. The church is still there.

37 Avenue Foch - the scooter is not a Lambretta!
They lived in the second-top flat - a lot of stairs for a little girl with polio. Note the
little balconies, for listening to the sounds of the fairground
Most of the area is rebuilt - the building on the corner, far right of this picture, is
probably where the little girl with the dog lived
The Catholic church is still there, though they were constructing an underground
carpark when the Googlewagen passed
In 1959, on the Lambretta trip, my parents visited Avenue Foch, and went in. The concierge and her husband were still living there, in the ground floor flat, and were astonished that my mother had grown so strong and vigorous, since she had been a very sickly child. The concierge's husband still had to tend to the heating boilers for the building, though they were fired by gas instead of coal. The only other neighbour who remained from 1935 was an elderly lady on the top floor. My mother remembered that she and her husband had a business which made jewellery boxes and cutlery cases - Mum was fascinated by them when she was little. The business was no more. It had ended when the old lady's husband was apprehended in 1941 and sent to Drancy, whence he went on to one of the extermination camps in Poland.