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


Sunday, 29 January 2017

Hooptedoodle #249 - Not the Eighth Dwarf


A propos of absolutely nothing, I was going through my folders of family photos, and came upon this one, taken while on holiday in Sorrento in 2000 (goodness me - is it that time already?).

We went for a walk up to St Agata, which is a good climb above Sorrento, and then on to the ancient convent of Il Deserto, which is on the road over the hill to Massa Lubrense. Past the convent there is the Hotel O Sole Mio (no, really), which in 2000 used to cater almost exclusively for German tour companies. The only reason I mention this at all is to explain the picture - along the side of the road was a line of plastic gnomes - I think they were Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, though now I study the photo I'm not so sure - and I was amused by this homely touch in a land of treasures and fine art. The entrance to the hotel car park was adorned with a plastic statue of Jesus, as you see, which struck me as a rather idiosyncratic complement to the group.

This is all mere whimsy - a fleeting moment of quirkiness in a pleasant holiday from years ago. In passing, I might mention that we last visited the area in 2010, and naturally we couldn't pass up on the chance of retracing our walk to Massa, but the little road had been redeveloped a good bit - the hotel had been replaced with a nice new one (and, it has to be said, the old one looked a bit of a dump), and Snow White and her augmented entourage were no more.


I am also reminded that in 2000 a local dog insisted on attaching itself to us, despite everything we tried to discourage it, and walked all the way with us from just past Il Deserto to Massa Lubrense. I was very concerned that the poor thing would be lost forever. When we went into a cafe in Massa for a well-earned drink (we took the bus back), the dog happily sloped off back up the road. I have to assume/hope that it got home safely; in fact, it probably joined tourists for the walk over the hills every day.


Another photo from the same holiday - maybe even the same walk - reveals a strange, slim version of MSFoy with rather more hair - scary - now that seems far longer ago than the holiday! It looks as though I may have been worrying about the dog...

Thursday, 26 January 2017

1809 Spaniards - Voluntarios de Campo Mayor - the authorised version

With, again, my sincere thanks to Macota for providing the reference information, I attach the relevant pages from the standard work by the Conde de Clonard, which show that the Vols de Campo Mayor were raised in Sevilla in 1802-3, confirm that the unit was named to commemorate the taking of the (Portuguese) town and fortress of Campo Mayor, during the War of the Oranges, and even give some details of which units helped contribute the manpower for each of the 6 companies. They were renamed for the town of Albuhera in 1815, and the reference to uniform colours also gives me a clue that the 1812 version of this regiment - in British-made light blue uniforms with white facings - gives a sensible ID to just such a unit which I have had sitting on the painting bottletops for a while (thanks again, Matt), waiting for me to provide a suitable drummer so they can take their place in the 1812 army.




Clonard's book was published in the mid-19th Century (I think), and he gives some later history, and the plate of unit insignia shows Campo Mayor at top left. The list of colonels could use some dates, I guess, but hey.


Just to make the point that these chaps worked very hard during the Guerra de Independencia, I also attach the tables from Col. JJ Sañudo's invaluable database of unit histories - these guys were everywhere - Talavera, Ucles - read for yourself. Thanks to everyone who contributed ideas, and to anyone who just read the original posting - oh, and to Google Books, of course.




Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Number 6 - An Expansion Too Far?

Sometimes you get a sort of sign – admittedly, some of us are so blooming dense that it takes a good shove to make the point, but I seem to have got there in the end.

I am a big fan of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, the GMT boardgame, which I play with miniatures – in fact this is the basis of almost all my wargaming now. In the past I have considered each of the expansion sets as they were announced – the only one I’ve invested in was #5, the Generals, Marshals and Tacticians set, which provides a new card pack, some upgraded rules and a rather richer game.


I’ve always been excited by the prospect of playing bigger C&CN games, on a bigger tabletop, so have been waiting for some time for the new Expansion #6, which allows Epic or La Grande Battle [sic] sized games on a bigger board. When it was announced, in March, I put my name down for pre-order in a state of some excitement, which qualified me for a discounted price, and I received an email receipt. Splendid.

And only then did I start to think about it more carefully.

Let me see – the new expansion gives you a couple of new playing boards (wasted on me, since I don’t play it as a boardgame), a book of new scenarios, using the bigger format, with some new scenery tiles and unit blocks (also wasted on me, for the same reason, and since many of the scenarios are for nations and campaigns which I do not play), a revised rule book (good, though I am aware that I need some new tabletops and, preferably, a church hall somewhere to play Epic games with miniatures in my scale) – no new card pack, though. The cost of the expansion is $75 plus postage, less about one-third discount for pre-ordering (plus UK VAT and Royal Mail handling charges).


The expansion was delayed for some reason, but shipping eventually commenced on 13th December. I have received nothing, and I was not convinced that I had actually paid anything, so I began to suspect that GMT had not sent me anything. Hmmm.

I sent an email yesterday, just to check where we are up to. GMT are good, and efficient, and the excellent Deb replied to me today, to say that, since they did not have up-to-date credit card information for me, they had not processed my order. If I wish to update my account information, they can sort things out. They could maybe have told me there was a problem, but they didn't.

Once again, hmmm. Was this the final sign?

Apart from anything else the pound Sterling has gone on a mighty slide since March – this game is getting more expensive, and more marginal, by the moment. I made a decision which surprised me, though I feel somewhat relieved having made it. I cancelled my order. I am confident that Expansion #6 is an excellent product, and that players all over the world will thoroughly enjoy it. But not for me. If I can piece together how the rule revisions work, I can probably make some tweaks to my own miniatures games to allow bigger, multiplayer games, and that’s really all I want. The shiny big box full of redundant bits and pieces would have been a folly – I can see that now.

It took me a while, but I got there. I may be enthusiastic, but I am not easy. Marketing departments, please note.

Monday, 23 January 2017

1809 Spaniards - a mystery unit?


This post covers a topic which has been discussed in a couple of my emails recently, so if you recognise any of it then I have simply opened the subject up a bit wider, in search of clues. Because, my dear Holmes, I am puzzled.

One of the forthcoming units in my 1809 Spanish army is a light battalion, the Voluntarios de Campo Mayor. I've included a picture of them in their 1805 regulation uniform, if only to give some proof they existed. I have checked my Spanish army database (a fine thing - the work of Col. JJ Sañudo), and it shows that they had a long and busy career during the Guerra de Independencia, but of course Sanudo's lists start in 1808, and I'm looking a bit earlier than that.

I have a little research to do to try to find an authentic (or at least feasible) flag for the unit. I enjoy lightweight digging jobs like this, but there is something a bit odd going on here. Campo Mayor is not in Spain at all - it is in Portugal. Why, then, would the Spanish Army have a unit named after (and raised in?) a Portuguese town? The regiment was raised in 1802 (I don't know where, at the moment), which makes it one of the very youngest of the regular regiments which existed prior to the huge explosion in new units raised from 1808 on. I am guessing here, but this may have something to do with Manuel de Godoy. The War of the Oranges (May-Jun 1801) had resulted in Spain capturing some Portuguese territory - including Campo Mayor and the province of Olivenza. The Treaty of Badajoz returned some of these areas to Portugal, though Olivenza remained Spanish until modern times.

Around 1802, one of the Spanish cavalry regiments changed its name to the Cazadores a Caballo de Olivenza, which may appear a little cheeky, in view of the very recent change of ownership (this is still a disputed region today), but it would have been really cheeky to name a new infantry unit after Campo Mayor, which - if it ever was Spanish - was only so very briefly.

According to Sañudo, the Voluntarios de Campo Mayor became (or were absorbed by) the Regimiento de Infanteria Ligera de Albuera (No.11) on 2nd March 1815. The mystery, then, is why and how the new light infantry battalion of 1802 was named after a Portuguese town? I'm still grinding my way through various books by Esdaile, Bueno and others, so I may yet find something, but I realise that someone might just know the answer.

All clues welcome, as ever!


Sunday, 22 January 2017

Wails of Torpor - non-review


Within the last year or two I've started picking up cheap DVDs of old war movies - I've thoroughly enjoyed Sink the Bismarck, Bridge over the River Kwai, The Desert Fox and a pile of others - some I'd seen before, back in the day, some are new to me - just the thing on odd rainy afternoons, or on the 3am insomnia shift when the depression bites. I can accept them and enjoy them for what they are, with all their dated values and outmoded politics.

I still have a few that I keep an eye open for - Battle of the Bulge (the one with Robert Shaw) is on my list, but I also get occasional recommendations from friends, or people whose taste I know to be about on a par (good or bad) with my own. Someone very kindly sent me an Amazon voucher for Christmas, so I took the opportunity to buy a few things I would not otherwise have treated myself to. I bought the new, 4-disc set of Abel Gance's Napoleon (1927?) - digitally restored, includes a pile of additional material which had become detached from the original movie, and a new musical soundtrack (derivative, but very good) by Carl Davis. At 8½ hours (or whatever it is) it still requires a major commitment in coffee and devotion, but I have started on the first disc, and have given up and determined that I shall start it again very soon when I am more relaxed.

To make up the package (and benefit from shipping savings) I got a few other things - notably Cross of Iron (which was recommended by a mate and which stars James Coburn as the famous blogger, Sgt Steiner - the film is OK - I'll watch that again, too, but mostly for Coburn) and Wheels of Terror, aka The Misfit Brigade, which was also recommended, and which might just be the worst film I've ever seen.


Wheels of Terror was made in 1987, I think (certainly the haircuts would confirm it was around that time), and it is based on one of the many works of Sven Hassel, a Dane who served in the German army in WW2. Now there may be a great many Hassel fans out there - all due respect to you all, I was never one. I recall WH Smith and station bookshops everywhere stocking best-selling pulp paperbooks by Hassel, all very popular, all with lurid covers, and all, reportedly, crammed with extreme violence and sweary words. I never bought or read any - not a matter of snobbery or prejudice - I seem to have been very busy in those days, and books of sweary words were not a high priority.

Anyway, I read the description of the DVD version of Wheels of Terror, shrugged, and decided it was probably worth £2.45 or whatever it was, if only to fill the gap in my education and see what all the fuss had been about.

Wow. The whole thing is buried under a lot of anachronistic American slang and mannerisms, the German soldiers behave like a comedy version of the US Marines (lots of "Yes - SUH!" in unison). The story line is silly, and pretty much irrelevant anyway, the bangs are bigger and brighter than you would credit, and the dialogue is something else. I kept finding myself shaking my head, and reminding myself, not only that someone had actually written this crap, but also had thought fit to include it in the movie. The acting is unbelievable in more than one sense, but in the end it is not so much bad as unnecessary - presentable actors such as David Carradine and Oliver Reed (not sure if Reed actually speaks, come to think of it) offer up their lines in very obvious disbelief - perhaps hoping it will all be over soon.


Maybe the style has dated - maybe they were trying to cash in on Hassel's success, or on the takings of some other film they wished this could have been. I was, you will have gathered, disappointed. I'm relieved that I did not read any of the books when they were around, but it's always a shame when you revisit some faintly naughty indulgence and find it was not worth the bus fare.

Why am I writing this up? Not sure, really - maybe it fits into a recurrent theme of nostalgia not being what it used to be - maybe it is just a public-service warning for non-Hassel-fans to avoid this film at all costs. It is without a single redeeming feature (though the unit markings on the tanks may be accurate - I wouldn't know) - you would be far better spending an hour and a half sweeping up leaves, or washing the car.

Monday, 16 January 2017

1809 Spaniards - Latest Group Photo

I've promised myself I'd do this for a while. In any case, I need to get photos of individual finished units to get my Napoleonic Catalogue back up to date (yes, I am sad enough to keep one of these!), and the 1809 army has now grown to the point where it can be photographed on its own, without any walk-on extras to swell the spectacle.

From this end, groups are Vanguard, 1st Divn, 2nd Divn, Reserve, Cavalry
and Irregulars
...and here we're looking back the other way
For anyone who has not come across this army before, it has to be explained that I already have a reasonably sized 1812-vintage Spanish nationalist army, but I gradually acquired enough bicorned castings to consider building a separate one for 1809. This army is based (approximately) on the OOB for the period around the Battles of Ucles and Ocaña - the original plan was to have a representation of the Vanguard, First and Reserve Divisions from the historical original, with appropriate cavalry, artillery and engineering services to make a well-rounded wargames army. It soon dawned on me that I could also add in a Second Division consisting of "New" (post 1808) Regiments, simply by drafting all the round-hatted volunteer units from the 1812 army, plus the guerilleros.

Anyway, the army is now shaping up nicely - I am astounded that the inflow of apparently obsolete metal figures continues to trickle on,  so that I now have more than enough for my intended forces - there is some danger of the Grand Plan expanding again, so I shall watch for that temptation. It is useful to go through this photography exercise - it summarises progress to date, gives me a stock check on what is still to be done, and it is - after all - fun.

Vanguard (still short of a battalion of grenadiers and two of light infantry) and
First Division on the right (short of one battalion of lights)

Current state of the Vanguard - 2 bns of La Corona, 1 each of Murcia and
Cantabria, the 1. Voluntarios de Cataluña and the Provinciales de Jaen

Second Division - 8 assorted round-hatted "new" regiments - including 3 of
light infantry - plus the Provinciales of Granada

Reserve Division (short of 2 bns of the Royal Guard, 2 of grenadiers and 1 of
lights) and cavalry (only the light cavalry is present - 4 units of heavier cavalry
still to be painted, any time soon...)

Current state of the Reserve - 1 bn each of the Walloon Guards, Irlanda,
Provinciales of Cordoba and 2 bns of Ordenes Militares

Light cavalry - leading unit is the Husares de Extremadura (formerly the
Husares de Maria Luisa)

These are the guerilleros - irregulars or armed civilians - they do not normally
appear with the field army, but are useful in a variety of situations - in siege
situations troops like these may serve on the walls alongside the regulars

Figures from Falcata, SHQ/Kennington, Qualiticast, even the odd HaT!
Apart from the missing units noted (still to be painted), I still need quite a few more generals and staff figures, there is at least one more company of foot artillery to come and I haven't started on the engineers and zapadores yet.

It is going rather well, though! Thanks - once again, very much - to everyone who has helped with supplies of figures and painting services - it wouldn't have happened without you!

This week's version of the target OOB is thus (units marked * are still to be painted)

Vanguard
1 & 3/La Corona (IR #5)
1/Murcia (IR #19)
1/Cantabria (IR #21)
Converged grenadier bn*
1. Vols de Cataluña (light)
Bn de Campo Mayor* (light)
Prov de Jaen

1st Divn
1 & 3/Reina (IR #2)
1 & 3/Africa (IR #6)
1 & 3/Burgos (IR #18)
Converged grenadier bn
Vols de Valencia* (light)
Prov de Ciudad Real

2nd Divn
8 bns of "new" infantry (borrowed from 1812, incl 3 light)
Prov de Granada

Reserve
1 & 2/Guardias Reales Españoles*
1/Guardias Walones
Granaderos Provinciales de Andalucia*
1 & 3/Ordenes Militares (IR #31)
1/Irlanda (IR #36)
Granaderos del General*
Vols de Gerona* (light)
Prov de Cordoba

Cavalry
Principe*
España*
Montesa*
Dragones de Pavia*
Husares de Extremadura
Husares Españoles (to be replaced with better figures...)
Cazadores de Olivencia
Cazadores "Vols de España"
Granaderos a Caballo Fernando VII

Foot Artillery - 4 companies (1 still to be painted)

Garrison artillery*
Engineers, Sappers etc*

Partidas, Irregulars

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Hooptedoodle #248 - an Organisation and Methods approach to the Music Hall

I’m not sure why I was thinking about this. Having thought about it, I reminded my wife about it, and I had a good laugh (again) – there is a faint risk that I have mentioned this story here before, since I am fond of it, but I don’t think so.


The underlying theme is the ancient world of the English music hall theatre – and especially of the seaside variety show. The significance of the seaside thing is simply that it was always a tradition that audiences when on their holidays would laugh at or applaud anything, even if

(1) It was rubbish

(2) They hadn’t understood it

(3) They hadn’t heard it properly

(4) They had heard it – last year, same theatre, same act

Hence the longevity of all those tap-dancing children, idiot ventriloquists and performing seals – and so on. Life forms which could not have survived for an instant in any other environment.


The focus of our study tonight, my friends, is the 2-man comedy act. Everything was very formalised – you might say formulaic. There will be a Funny Man and there will be a Stooge (who is even less funny than the Funny Man), and there is a classic form of (terrible) joke which has a very strict format. The following well-known examples will serve:

Funny Man: I say, my wife has gone to the West Indies.
Stooge: Gone to the West Indies? Jamaica?
FM: No – she went OF HER OWN ACCORD….

FM: I say, my dog has no nose.
Stooge: No nose? How does he smell?
FM: TERRIBLE….

FM: I say, there’s a man outside, stealing your gate.
Stooge: Stealing my gate? Did you try to stop him?
FM: No – I DIDN’T WANT HIM TO TAKE OFFENCE….

And that’s quite enough – you will certainly know other examples, and they will all be funnier than the chosen three.

To get to the point, my musician friend The Hat and I got to discussing this form of joke, over a beer. We felt that, though it might be traditional, it was due a bit of a makeover. First of all, we considered simply changing the expected punchline, since no-one would notice and they would laugh anyway, since the joke form has a kind of rhythm which makes it obvious in which gap the laughter is required. If, we reasoned, the first example (the Jamaica one) ended with the FM saying, “No – she went to Trinidad” then it completely defeats any last trace of humour, since the wretched pun is cancelled, but we were pretty sure the laughter would be undiminished – in fact, we ourselves would laugh along quite loudly, so it might actually be increased a little.

However, we realised we were really just playing around with the idea, and that it would make more sense if we set ourselves some serious objectives – made our improvement more worthwhile in some way. Well, most English seaside resorts these days are a bit short of money, so we thought that if somehow we could simplify the jokes a bit – shorten them – it would get them over quicker. Since they weren’t funny to start with, the cash saving of not having the janitor hanging around for quite so long (waiting to sweep up), might be very welcome. We quickly became aware that our new, streamlined versions of the jokes were not funny at all, but the originals were not noticeably funny either, so we persevered.

The first modification was to cut out a line – this meant that the Stooge now delivered what served as a punchline (or at least the last line in the exchange, even if it lacked punch). Thus, with some change in job titles, the first example now reads:

FM1: I say, my wife has gone to the West Indies.
FM2: Gone to the West Indies? I bet she went of her own accord.

You may debate whether this ranks as an improvement – certainly the cost accountants on the council are very pleased – the comedy act now only lasts 4 minutes in total.

We think the new format will become accepted, though it may take a little while to bed in with the more conservative audiences, but we have not been idly resting on our laurels – we have an even shorter version in the laboratory – the most efficient joke form yet developed:

FM: I say, my wife has gone to the West Indies of her own accord.

Or, another of our examples:

FM: I say, my dog smells terrible.

Good, eh? You getting the hang of this? The council will love it, because we’ve actually got rid of one complete employee, and the delivery time is even shorter. Fantastic. We think it still needs a little work, but maybe you could all do a little offline testing for us – convert some jokes of your own to this new, efficient format, and try them on your friends. In the pub, if you like. I’d be delighted to know how you get on – The Hat and I are dedicated to continuous improvement, and we appreciate any help we can get.






Saturday, 7 January 2017

1809 Spaniards - Flagging Effort?

Today I have attached flags to the 5 recent new(ish) battalions of my 1809 Spanish army which were waiting for them. Another small step for mankind - pleased with them, actually.


From left, front row: 1/Cantabria; 1 & 2/Ordenes Militares, all marching into the customary stiff breeze

Back row: 1 & 2/La Corona.


All the rank and file are NapoleoN figures, while the command are a mixture of NapoleoN and Falcata, with a few conversions thrown in.

Good - they are now safely put away in the boxes, ready to fight. I feel an urge to set up a more complete group picture of the state of the Spanish army in the near future. I'll do this.

As for the next painting batches, I am giving some thought to doing two battalions of the Guardias Reales. This will probably break down into two batches - a fussy one with all the command, and then a factory one for the rank and file. This will be the second guard presence in the Reserve Division - I already have the Guardias Walones - the uniform is very similar, but the Reales will be rather scruffier, partly because I shall be the painting service (!) and partly because they will be in blue overalls rather than those dashing high gaiters.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Hooptedoodle #247 - Hmmm


This was passed to me - I have no idea where it came from, and certainly no right to borrow it, but - at the end of a Christmas holiday which seems to have been dominated by arguments about how much time my son might be able to spare from his computer games and his new phone - it does have a certain wistful quality.

Of course, why should we care about the thoughts of an old man, with wrinkly skin and unconditioned hair? [No - I am referring to Albert...]

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Napoleon's Town Guards


Holiday period, another quiet day. This morning I was browsing Alfons Canovas’ blog, and was very taken by his feature on the part of the Charmy Splendeur series which relates to the units of Gardes d’Honneur of various towns and cities in Napoleonic France – very pretty indeed – hmmm.

It reminded me that there are vast areas of Napoleon’s second line and regional forces which I have never really understood. I’m looking at some splendid chaps in Alfons’ blog – the Gardes d’Honneur of Lyon, Metz, Nantes, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Bayonne etc – if ever you needed a questionable case for some spectacular painted units for your collection, you need look no further. I shall have a look through the appropriate volumes of Elting and so on, but I was just wondering (idly), at what strength did these units exist? I note that they had both foot and mounted companies, did they have any duties beyond making the town look good on ceremonial occasions? did they do actual police or garrison work? did any of them ever serve in the field? what relationship (if any) did they have to the Garde Nationale, or the regulars? who designed the uniforms? – the mayor? To whom did they belong – the town or the army?

I read somewhere, as an example, that the Nantes unit comprised 120 foot, 80-odd horse, 20 officers and a 26-piece band, which sounds a bit ceremonial, maybe, but I would guess that the full answers to these queries might well be the content of a PhD course somewhere, and I wondered if anyone could point me to some useful general reading. I only half-seriously thought about painting some of these fellows, but the Lyon unit is particularly splendid – white uniforms with pink facings, musicians in red. Mouth-watering. I’d have them like a shot if it made any sense. To put this into context, last night I’d half-convinced myself that one of the spare French units in the lead mountain might usefully become a battalion of the Legion Hanovrienne – mainly because my growing interest in French sieges in Spain reminded me that this unit was in (I think) Loison’s Division of VI Corps until Sept 1811, and they look interesting, in red-with-blue-facings. I have not rejected this idea yet.

I already have a bigger paint queue than I can comfortably live with, by the way…

I’d like to do some gentle reading on the various types of second line soldiers. I realise that definitions sometimes became blurred as necessity dictated. My French field army for Spain 1811-13 (in The Cupboard) already contains a battalion each of the Chasseurs des Montagnes and the Garde de Paris, because I know that is historically correct, but they are also there (obviously) because they enrich the toy army a bit with some colour and variety (and, often, with unpredictable behaviour on the battlefield).

Monday, 2 January 2017

New Year in Scotland - Looks Pretty Good, Too


Since the morning was clear (though freezing cold) we went for a walk on the beach here at the farm. Very pleasant. Blew away a few cobwebs. The countryside is always waiting for us, a solace and an inspiration - we really should get down there more often.

Photography courtesy of Mme la Contesse.


Tantallon Castle - if you listen hard, you can hear General Monck's guns from 1651


I also include a short movie clip from our walk - note the Bass Rock (not white now - all the gannets went away to Africa or somewhere a while ago) and the threatening hulk of Tantallon across the next bay. The hazy hills over the water are in Fife.



You know, I think it's going to be all right.

******* Late Edit *******

I'd have included this earlier, but I couldn't find it. Ted Hughes is probably not very cool these days (as in "not trending"), and in any case we are a bit early for March, but this is his "March Morning Unlike Others", which I always loved, and which somehow captures the way in which the steady, reassuring passage of the seasons is a source of comfort to us poor humans:

Blue haze. Bees hanging in the air at the hive-mouth.
Crawling in prone stupor of sun
On the hive-lip. Snowdrops. Two buzzards,
Still-wings, each
Magnetized to the other,
Float orbits.
Cattle standing warm. Lit, happy stillness.
A raven, under the hill,
Coughing among bare oaks.
Aircraft, elated, splitting blue.
Leisure to stand. The knee-deep mud at the trough
Stiffening. Lambs freed to be foolish.

The earth invalid, dropsied, bruised, wheeled
Out into the sun,
After the frightful operation.
She lies back, wounds undressed to the sun,
To be healed,
Sheltered from the sneapy chill creeping North wind,
Leans back, eyes closed, exhausted, smiling
Into the sun. Perhaps dozing a little.
While we sit, and smile, and wait, and know
She is not going to die.



Hooptedoodle #246 – Donkey Award – A Matter of Identity

I'm not quite sure what this man is doing, but the process of providing acceptable
proof of identity often feels very like this. I must get one of those hats.
Recently my mother has moved into a residential care home, and I’ve been busy selling her house and sorting out her various financial affairs – there are, as a trivial example, a considerable number of organisations who have to be notified of her change of address.

I have had Power of Attorney (PoA) in place for some 8 years or so now – for which I am very grateful – when the time comes for you to use it, it can come in a hurry.

A recurrent issue in the last few weeks has been the need to establish identity – usually mine (as agent or attorney), but – for purposes of money laundering and the actual sale of the house – proof of my mother’s identity has also been required.

Now this security thing is a weird industry – I know all about why this has to be done, why organisations have to be certain that they are dealing with the people they think they are dealing with, but it does seem that the traditional proofs which are acceptable are increasingly out of step with current reality. I’m only part-way through the task, but I’ve seen the same request for the same information many times. Someone will want to see a couple of recent (original) utility bills or bank statements with the individual’s name and address thereupon, and some form of photo ID which identifies the bearer – passport and/or driving licence are the norm. Often someone will also wish to see the original documentation for the PoA – a certified copy is often not accepted – which requires delay, hassle and return registered mail.

Well I can manage most of that, except that just about all my personal business is carried out online these days, so recent paper statements and invoices of appropriate solemnity are not so easy to find. I have been looking after a lot of my mum’s business online in recent years too, but her situation is worse in that she does not have a passport – hasn’t had one since 1985 or so – and she hasn’t had a driving licence for many years. Because she has been housebound she doesn’t have photo ID in the form of a disabled person's parking permit or even an in-force bus pass. This is not a trivial problem.

Example 1: I have attempted to set up an online account for her with the Tax Office (HMRC), since she will now receive her savings income gross and will have to settle the tax liability each year. I got nowhere – if she has neither passport nor current driving licence then the system cannot verify her against other government records, so she doesn’t exist. Thus paper tax returns it will have to be. Hmmm.

Example 2: Two days ago I phoned her pension supplier – the young man was quite firm that he could not accept notification of change of address over the telephone unless we went through the entire rigmarole of sending my PoA forms so that I could be formally registered as the attorney, so that I could notify them of a simple address update – since all the bank account and payment information is to remain the same, this seems a lot like the tail wagging the dog. We’ll gloss over how delighted the young man was to be unable to help me. While I was waiting to be put through to him, however, the voice server system had suggested that I might like to set up an online account with the pension fund. Bingo. Thank you very much – that’s the answer. I set up an online account for my mother (I have all the paperwork here) and simply changed her address online. No problem – I/she/we even got an email thanking me for my trouble.


Excellent. I am adopting the same procedure with her major utility suppliers – create an online account, and use it to notify a change of address and the cessation of the supply. These organisations are delighted that you are doing the work yourself – no-one seems at all concerned that I might, in fact, be an unauthorised alien making free with some poor old lady’s identity. I’m not going to make ripples here – if it works, let’s do it. My handling of her bank accounts is similar – all done online, though if I wished to do it over the counter or on the phone we’d all be frozen in amber until the PoA forms came back from The Legal People, who live far, far away.

My point is only that proving identity is becoming a central theme in our lives, that most people’s lives have moved away from a set-up which readily provides the traditional paper proofs, yet the identity checking built into online customer self-management is (usefully, in this  case) negligible.


How awfully silly.