Monday, 22 November 2021

“Utrinque Paratus” - Ready for Anything

 The Wings of Pegasus - the emblem of the British Airborne Forces

I arrived home from work tonight to the news that Laurel’s brother (and my brother in law) had finally lost his battle against stage four cancer yesterday evening. It was not unexpected but it still has the power to stop you in your tracks. Needless to say we are all pretty raw around the edges.

Gordie was a real character, a gentle giant, fond of West Ham United and the odd beer or six, incredibly proud of the eleven years he spent with regiment and to his dying day he fought against the odds as any paratrooper would.

I have known him since 1980 and his visits to the UK from his home in Vancouver invariably involved beer and trips to military museums - naturally I was a very willing participant in both! I was quite surprised to note that out day trip to Duxford (in the photo below) was just over a decade ago - it feels like it was only recently.

We often spoke about his time in the Paras and he would regale me with accounts of incidents he was involved in during the Radfan campaign. To me he was larger than life (he was certainly larger than me at 6ft 3 inches tall and built like a tank) and for sure he will be missed by us all.

When he first received the diagnosis of his final illness he was very philosophical about it and said that he was content with how his life had gone. He resolved to fight as hard as he could but even his legendary resilience and paratrooping stubbornness in the face of overwhelming odds could not overcome his illness. My thoughts are with his partner, Diane and indeed, all that knew him

At a personal level I consider it an inestimable honour to have both known him and to have shared many memorable times days out in his company.

Duxford 2011. Gordie (on the left) made a beeline for the ex paratrooper volunteer guides and they swapped stories with yours truly taking the pictures and listening from the outside.

R.I.P. Gordon ‘Gordie’ Cormack - raising a beer for you.


Sunday, 21 November 2021

Today I have been….

 Next steps will be cutting out the flagstaffs, drilling some holes, modelling the pilot houses and then putting it altogether prior to painting.

….mostly packing parcels prior to posting (special mention for tradgardmastare and Aly!) and assembling masts for the remaining ACW ships. Pay no attention to the MDF templates the masts are currently located in as I was merely using these as stands while the glue dried. You can see the hulls the masts will be finishing up on in the background. I have one more ‘full’ mast to build and a bowsprit and then it will be rather a lot of drilling.

Taking a look at some of the earlier models I have a small amount of refurbishment to undertake. These are not repairs but a couple of minor changes. A good example is the pair of Union City class ironclad gunboats. I shall be changing their current pilot houses from the square shape they have to a more accurate looking octagonal one. Strictly speaking these pilot houses should have angled sides but mine will be straight sided due to how the MDF has been cut. At least the overall look will be more accurate looking than previously.

I also want to add some more guns to my version of U.S.S. Kearsage and C.S.S. Alabama as they represent the more ‘modern’ version of the sloop compared to the earlier broadside type.

Whilst in the ACW vibe I gave the rules a further review and have come to a couple of conclusions. To begin with, I am going to revert to my original idea in respect of firing and am also looking to greatly simplify the whole ‘critical hit’ system as it is a little clunky. In either case the changes are really quite minor and in retrospect I think I should have stuck with the original idea but one lives and learns!

I am also more or less at the stage where I can take the rules for an airing using live opponents. I have broached the idea of running a test or two at the club so will look to get something organised as soon as the redraft has taken place which should coincide with finishing the remaining ship models.

It has been a very therapeutic afternoon working on these models once again and I hope that I can continue the momentum. There are some big domestic things coming up that nay well impact on this but hopefully I can keep on keeping on.

Thursday, 18 November 2021

A Pleasant Way to Spend an Evening

 H.M.S. Dragon - Mr Manley will know why!

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of meeting up for a couple of beers and pizza with David Manley, the well known writer of naval rules, self confessed motor racing addict and collector of assorted wildlife. He also happens to be the Professor of Naval Architecture at UCL in London and a thoroughly nice bloke to boot!

As is his work schedule means that he is in town fairly frequently so it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up and so we arranged to meet in the city. There was also the small matter of passing over the rules I picked up for him at Salute last Saturday.

The conversation was broad and covered many things naval related and gaming stuff more generally and for me it was great to be able to finally thank him in person for the support he has extended me in respect of my ACW ship and rules project. He has given me a number of ideas to think about and as I sat on the train home I thought about all the things I didn’t ask him - but they will be for another time I am sure!

I would like thank Mr Manley for taking the time out to meet up - it was an absolute pleasure for sure and one I hope to repeat soon!

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Salute 2021 - One Wargamer’s View

 ….And so it was that on the 13th day of November, the year of our Lord 2021 that David ventured out unto the promised land of the Excel centre to attend the wargames show that is Salute and in doing so saw many wondrous things and met with many similar and like minded individuals. He was by turns, impressed and depressed and returned from his journey beset by nagging doubts….

Apologies for the rather rambling introduction but I am feeling in a rather whimsical frame of mind!

The modest amount of Salute ‘loot’. The brown bag contains my order of bases for the block armies. ‘O’ Group are a battalion level set of WW2 rules published by Reisswitz Press - I had a chat with the author, David Brown whom assured me that the rules were worth far more without his signature! As a show special they came with the MDF order counters you see. Battle for the Bundu I picked up from Dave Lanchester and was really pleased to do so as this was also one of the books disappeared into the ether some time ago

Salute needs little introduction from me so the following post is very a personal opinion and is not in any way intended as a criticism of those that spent an enormous amount of time and effort organising the show  for the thundering herd that attended. 

My first issue was with the cost of the parking - a flat fee of £20 for the day! Taken into consideration with the entry fee and the possibility of a ULEX charge going forwards it becomes a pretty expensive day out even before you hit the trade stands. I know that this is an Excel charge but it still seems very dear especially if one is only going for half a day.

I arrived at around 1:30 and by the time I had paid for my parking and had gotten passed Covid control I was barely able to make the bloggers meet up at 2pm, for which I was only able to spend a short time due to a few show related errands. I did meet up with Postie’s Rejects, Tamsin and David in Suffolk (all of whom I bumped into on various occasions during the afternoon) which was a real pleasure after so long.

As is my usual modus operandi at shows I was going to be helping Dave Lanchester pack away his book stand (usually I help him set up but at his request it was the other way round this time) so after having dropped some items off with him I went for a wander about.

I was really keen to visit the Warbases stand to say hello to Martin and to thank him for the excellent work on the bases for my block armies and the various bits and pieces I needed for my ACW ships. What a very nice chap he is! 

I was also able to have a brief chat with Simon Stokes of the Naval Wargames Society - he was hosting a Saga based game featuring 28mm Viking longships.

It was also great to say hello to Dave Ryan of Caliver Books and Tony Francis at Brigade Models - both of which seemed to be pretty busy.

It has been a long time since I attended a show and probably even longer since I attended one in the afternoon so perhaps that is why it all seemed a little flat. The venue is massive but it felt slightly under occupied and the sight of empty tables that had been reserved for clubs that for whatever reason had not attended made for an even more ‘spaced out’ feeling. Perhaps it was just me but it all felt very much as if it was going through the motions in a way.

I took a few pictures of things that caught my eye so I will let the do the talking.

Mexican Revolution in 54mm

‘O’ Group in action. I forgot to take a picture of the other end of the table which featured a very nice river. Russian Front in 15mm

Viking ships in 28mm using Saga rules. Kirk Douglas was conspicuous by his absence….

10mm Great Northern War. Large scale loveliness

Star Trek meets the Battle of Britain - that would be a great idea for an episode!

One of the few….

….and its workhorse stablemate - a ‘gentleman’s aerial conveyance’ indeed!

Overall I enjoyed the show but it did seem a little flat in respect of the atmosphere. It was great to catch up with some familiar faces and of course, the modest amount of retail therapy made a pleasant diversion from recent weeks. As usual with this venue my left leg was very unappreciative of the effort it had to make wandering about and after having filled up Dave Lanchester’s van at the close of play, my shoulders and back joined it in sympathy!

The final twist on the day was when I went back to my car I had made the mistake of parking it under a previously unseen bird’s nest located in the ceiling conduit. The roof of the car looked like it had been carpet bombed…

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

The Road Goes Ever On and On....

Budge, the Norwich Cathedral cat relaxing on one of the underfloor heating air vents.

Budge, Budge, fur brown like fudge, Cathedral cat and hero"

This will be something of a mish mash of a post and it has been written with the intention of bringing you up to date with what is going on in my world - domestically and gaming wise.

Laurel is pretty much back to the same condition she was prior to her angiogram meaning that once again she has severe nerve pain in her lower back and legs. She has said that it is not as bad but make no mistake, it is still enough for her to be taking industrial quantities of heavy hitting painkillers. She had an additional couple of scans last week, the results of which will be discussed with her consultant this coming Friday. Hopefully we will have better news this time around.

The news from Canada continues as expected. We talk to Gordie every week and whilst he remains remarkably upbeat his strength and endurance are, predictably, gradually wearing away. We do not know how long he has but friends and family are making sure that he and his partner has plenty of support.

Laurel and I managed to visit some of the Norfolk based family over the weekend - the first time in fact for nearly two years. We paid a visit to Norwich Cathedral - the whole complex is a very impressive affair - and enjoyed a nice lunch in the Refractory cafe. This is run by Jarrolds - a famous Norwich department store - and featured some of their delicious home made scones. These are huge and an absolute must if ever you are in Norwich! We also made the acquaintance of Budge, the cathedral cat. He is well used to visitors and being petted so was completely unconcerned by our making a fuss over him. 

Aside from Laurel's sister we also visited her step father who lives deep in the heart of the broads. He is an avid model railway enthusiast so we spent a pleasant couple of hours discussing the overlap between our respective hobbies - mainly concerning terrain - and he very kindly gave me a couple of rolls of grass mat, partially used. There is enough on each roll - one is meadow grass and the other is more heath like - for a specific project I have in mind, more of which in a later post.

We arrived home on Sunday afternoon and as I had a couple of hours spare I spent some time working on the ACW ships. I have rather a lot of masts to fashion which is not difficult to do but does take a while. It was very therapeutic for sure and served to take my mind off 'stuff'.

This Saturday I shall be going to Salute but by way of a complete break in my usual show attendance tradition I will be there in the afternoon and not the morning. I plan to arrive around 1:30 if I can and so will be attending the blogger's meet up scheduled for 2. If you are there say hello, it will be good to interact with real people once again!

Sunday, 31 October 2021

The Joy of Genealogy

The San Josef in Spanish service

 I have posted previously about my grandfather and his service in the Royal Navy from 1919 to 1945 some time ago - you can read about this here. Staying with the naval theme I was quite surprised to find out that a previous generation of my family also served at sea - during the Napoleonic Wars in fact. 

A cousin of mine has been working on the family tree on my father’s side and it appears that Thomas Crook (baptised 1782 from the village of Berry Pomeroy in Devon) served aboard H.M.S. San Josef - a 114 gun Spanish first rate captured at the battle of St Vincent and later the flagship of Sir Thomas Duckworth. I do not have any details of the extent of his service and given that in all probability he was a farm labourer I cannot help but wonder if he was ‘pressed’ into service. I would certainly like to find out more about him.

So it seems like my family on my father’s side originated in the West Country but headed east during the course of the 19th century - presumably to find work. Thomas’s son George (b. 1834) married in Erith, Kent in 1861 and after a brief sojourn in Prittlewell, Essex (according the 1881 census) were, by 1890 running the The Plough - a public house in Chelmsford. One of his sons, Lewis, moved to Walthamstow where my grandfather, Alfred, was born in 1901.

There are a number of coincidences in all this. For a short while I lived in Belvedere which is just up the road from Erith and I currently live quite close to Prittlewell and am not that far away from the Plough in Chelmsford. Small world isn’t it?

Saturday, 30 October 2021

The Enduring Appeal of the Napoleonic Big Battle

 A ‘big battle’ set of rules for, well, big battles….

There is something of the operatic epic about many of the battles of the Napoleonic wars. Colourful uniforms, dashing cavalry, determined grenadiers, stoic infantry squares, the crash bang wallop of the artillery and plumed and resplendent generals and ADCs darting hither and thither whilst great lines of skirmishers harry, hassle and annoy in equal measure. Then there are the personalities - the rock stars of the age - imposing their will on the battle in question and leaving their mark, for better or worse, on the canvas of history. It is fair to say that in many respects history became legend and legend became myth - and the course of the history of the Napoleonic wars is replete with copious amounts of both.

During the life of this blog I have often mentioned my fondness for the 1815 campaign in Belgium. Waterloo exercises a peculiar fascination for me ever since I first started wargames back in the early 1970s. In fact my 1815 Allied army made up from Airfix figures and organised as per Bruce Quarries's Airfic Magazine guide - late morphing into Napoleon's Campaigns in Miniature - is one of the few armies I have ever painted to a state of relative completeness.

For me there is something about this campaign that I just do not seem to be able to get over - nor do I wish to! 

It is all about the big battle. For my Napoleonic adventures (aka 1815 with perhaps a side hustle in the shape of the 1812 Russian campaign) I wanted to fight (and still do) big actions involving divisions and corps. From a practical perspective - by this I mean in terms of playing space - I am limited to a table of 6ft by 4ft but in all honesty I prefer to fight over a much more compact space, say 4ft by 3ft, or even 3ft by 2ft. Clearly using  this small size of playing area  means using either smaller figures or fewer numbers of anger figures or even dispensing with using figures at all. I fully appreciate that the latter option may come across as heresy for many gamers but certainly not for me!

Several levels of Portable Wargame goodness

I have been inspired by the large scale Napoleonic rules in Charles Wesencraft’s Practical Wargaming as well as more recently, Volley and Bayonet by Frank Chadwick and the Portable Napoleonic Wargame by Bob Cordery. In fact the latter has been taken to a quite remarkable level by Mark Cordone. If you check out Bob’s blog you will see what I mean as Mark organised a very effective refight of the 1813 Battle of Leipzig using Risk figures - and Napoleonic ‘big battles’ do no come much bigger than that!

I really thought I was on to something with the Del Prado collection for 1815 but something about it did not sit right with me and so it was disposed of. To be honest I am thinking that for the scale of games I envisage fighting using figures is probably less of an issue - especially as the block armies work just as well along with 3D scenery. Something to think about going forwards anyway - and with implications for the ACW project as well.

When I saw that Osprey were releasing the set you see at the start of this post it was only going to be a matter of time before I acquired a copy. Absolute Emperor are also well supported by a dedicated Facebook group and there are certainly plenty of good ideas contained therein. There is absolutely no hurry with any of this as the ACW remains front and centre. Having said that the thought of a minor diversion into Belgium during 1815 would be hard to resist - except that I will.

For now anyway….:-)

Monday, 25 October 2021

An ACW Refresher

C.S.S. Virginia doing that ‘ironclad battering a wooden warship’ thing

 It is hard to believe that it was just over a year ago that I put up the first post showing the construction of the original batch of ACW ships. If you are keen to to do then you can read about it here. Over the course of the year I have successfully completed over fifty models - probably more when you take into consideration the various rebuilds that have taken place - and have not yet finished. Under construction are a further nine models and then I will need to furnish some mortar rafts, tugs and barges in order to complete the collection. The supporting rules have been solo play tested and so the next stage will be to unleash them on some unsuspecting live players. I need to organise a larger playing surface as well as building some terrain pieces to go with the collection but overall it is in pretty good shape. 

There is nothing new or groundbreaking in this post but as I have just drafted an article for a journal about the collection I thought it would be fun to share the new pictures of what has been built so far. It was quite inspiring taking these out of the storage boxes once again and posing them. It has also served to give me a not so gentle nudge in respect of finishing the models that are currently under construction!

Confederate ironclads - historical types in the foreground and some more generic models bringing up the rear

Confederate river paddle steamers with the exception of the C.S.S. Little Rebel bottom right (she was screw propelled)

A brace of C.S.S. Stonewalls (I cheated slightly and gave them a turret rather than a gun house a la H.M.S. Wyvern) and a commerce raider

Union monitors with the original U.S.S. Monitor at the bottom right

A selection of Union river ironclads - from left to right the U.S.S. Benton, Essex, Carondelet and the Louisville

Assorted Union river paddle steamers. The smaller vessels in the rear also double as Ellet rams

Union ironclads from left to right the U.S.S. New Ironsides, Galena and the rather odd looking and short lived Keokuk

Union navy old and new. A Frigate and two sloops (black and white with gunports) with a newer sloop on the right based on the U.S.S. Kearsage and a pair of 90 day gunboats in the foreground.

I have to say that seeing all this lot again after having boxed most of them up was a pleasing experience and it certainly has given me the jolt I needed to crack on with the remaining models. I also need to think rather more seriously about about the playing ares I will be using. The cloth they are sitting on used to be a ‘throw’ that my daughter used in her accommodation when she was at University. I am thinking of adding white self adhesive ‘dots’ to form the grid as this will be less intrusive.

As ever, much to think about but at least my head is a lot clearer than it has been recently!

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Vicksburg is the Key

 A very good overview of the campaign and siege of Vicksburg

Now that one of our domestic situations has relented slightly - at least temporarily - my headspace is feeling rather more willing to resume work on my ACW project. The first order of business is of course completing the ships but I have, in the meantime, been quietly researching the Vicksburg campaign.

Aside from the siege itself there is a whole raft of operations that provide plenty of ideas for gaming scenarios - both on the mighty Mississippi and its tributaries and on the land side. From the end paper of the book above you can see what I mean.

“The struggle for control of the Mississippi River was the longest and most complex campaign of the Civil War. It was marked by an extraordinary diversity of military and naval operations, including fleet engagements, cavalry raids, amphibious landings, pitched battles, and the two longest sieges in American history. Every existing type of naval vessel, from sailing ship to armoured ram, played a role, and military engineers practise their art on a scale never before witnessed in modern warfare. Union commanders such as Grant, Sherman, Farragut, and Porter demonstrated the skills that would take them to the highest levels of command. When the immense contest finally reached its climax at Vicksburg and Port Hudson in the summer of 1863, the Confederacy suffered a blow from which it never recovered. Here was the true turning point of the Civil War.”

Whilst I am not planning to replicate the campaign as such it will certainly serve as a great template for my own alternative version using the waterways of Essex as the theatre of war. One thing has come up on the naval side though - I will need to build some mortar rafts!

Looking forward to reading this one!

The land side will be covered using the block armies initially although I have some plans for something figure based in due course. A further addition to the library to support this project is the book you see above - acquired courtesy of some of the remaining balance of my birthday Amazon gift cards. 

It has been a really trying couple of months but with the note of cautious optimism concerning Laurel as well as some positive news from Canada about her brother - obviously this is relative given his condition - the month has taken on a slightly rosier hue at last.

Long may it continue!

Saturday, 16 October 2021

That Was the Week that Was….

 It has been a trying and stressful week but with a cautiously optimistic outcome.

On Monday I took Laurel to Queens hospital in Romford for her pre op. Aside from a truly awful journey - it was during the he rush hour and morning school run, not helped by numerous roadworks - the procedures she had went very smoothly. They did a blood test, a Covid swab, an MRSA swab, and ECG, blood pressure and weight etc - all was good and swiftly and efficiently done.

Tuesday was spent with Laurel isolating in preparation for Wednesday. For a variety of reasons we felt that it would be a good idea for her to pack for an overnight stay which she duly did. This proved to be a very wise move.

Laurel had her spinal angiogram on Wednesday with the caveat that should they see the affected area in more detail than from the enhanced MRI they would then proceed to carry out the angioplasty - essentially repairing the AVM with surgical glue. That was the plan and naturally this would have been advantageous as it would all be done in one hit. After a myriad of delays (highlighting just how much the NHS in under due to staffing and resourcing issues) - a five hour wait (9am until 2:15) on her own until she went to theatre - she eventually had her angiogram and was out into recovery at around 5:45. There was some confusion as to what she had done as no one seemed to be sure if it just the angiogram or if the angioplasty had featured as well. This was cleared up the next day.

She was coming on on Thursday and as is usual had to wait to be discharged following the ward rounds. Eventually I was told it would be around 2pm so I left home in good time to collect her. For a variety of reasons it was not until after 4 that we were able to leave. In the meantime one of her consultants team came to tell us what actually had taken place.

The angiogram was not able to identify the place where the AVM was from the enhanced MRI. It appeared to have dispersed of its own accord! The increasing frequency and severity of lower back pain she had been experiencing over the previous couple of months were indicative of it ‘bleeding, clotting and then breaking down’. We certainly did not expect to hear that!

As expected Laurel was feeling tired, groggy and with a bewildering variety of surgical procedure induced  aches and pains. We got home and so after a bite to eat she hit the sack for some much needed sleep.

We had a phone call from the consultant himself yesterday evening. He apologised for not being able to speak with us whilst we were waiting for the hospital discharge but he was tied up in theatre until around 7. He explained in more detail what had taken place and it does appear that the increasing pain Laurel experienced was due to the AVM effectively repairing itself but to be on the safe side she will need to have a couple of further scans to confirm this and to rule out anything else untoward.

Overall this is reason to be cautiously optimistic although we need the effects of the angiogram to wear off - Laurel has some interesting bruising for sure - so that she can work out what is post procedure pain or the ongoing back situation.

Give it a couple of weeks or so and we should have a clearer idea, especially once the further scans have been done.

There are few things in life worse than seeing a loved one suffer and being unable to alleviate the pain and stress caused. It has been an exhausting week for her and for us as a family but with support and help from friends and relatives it has made it a little easier to cope with.

Many thanks one and all.

Monday, 11 October 2021

A Definite Kind of Progress

Cockleshell heroes indeed and one that I am looking to reading and getting some inspiration from 

First of all and once again, a very big thank you to all for the kind messages of support in respect of the imminent surgery that Laurel is about to have. Both of us really appreciate it. This morning was the first visit to the hospital for her to have the pre op sequence - BP, blood test, MRSA and Covid swab as well as an ECG. It took us longer to get to the hospital than it did for all these tests to be undertaken. Even the parking was not too problematic! This Wednesday is the day so fingers and other extremities are firmly crossed for a successful outcome.

In the meantime life has meandered on and so I have found myself at something of a loose end this afternoon - I am working from home but have tackled the business of the day rather sooner than I would thought meaning that I have some spare time and of course, there is no commute involved unless you count heading up into the loft as such….

So I have some definite progress to report in a couple of areas as well as some new additions to the collection - one courtesy of a birthday Amazon gift cards and the other thanks to the generosity of a fellow gamer and blogger.

“Big wheels keep on turning….”

The ACW ships are finally taking shape and are beginning to look like what they should do! The six you see are the side wheel paddle ships - two for the Union and four for the Confederates with their respective paddle boxes in place. Originally I was going to paint the sun ray effect paddle boxes before fixing them in place but have opted instead to paint them in situ - mainly because it gives me something rather larger to hold on to whilst doing so.

The original versions. Note the dice frame that is incorrectly positioned over the edge of the large recess where the blocks sit. There is also a hole cut into the base beneath this which made the whole thing a little too deep for a 6mm d6.

The revised versions viewed from the front and the rear. I have opted to use just the dice frame to sit the d6 in and you can see that it has been positioned to that it is in line with the main recess. Altogether much smarter looking!

Originally in our kitchen but tucked away in the man cave for safekeeping - until now that is! Measuring 24” by 18” and ideal for a 2” square grid. It merely needs some work to get it ready for action and will make for a truly portable playing surface.

The revised movement tray prototypes for my block armies have arrived and I am delighted with them so these will be the production versions. I made a rather pleasant discovery with these - at least with the 1 1/2” square version - in that the small version will enable to make use of a 2” square grid with a single block per unit. This is really handy as I have an old cork notice board that measure 24” by 18” or, when using a 2” grid, 12 by 9 squares. Now that is what I call a Portable Wargame!

Gotta love some WW2 special forces action!

Over the past year or so I have been looking at and thinking about skirmish level games for various things, ranging from the crusades to the far future. A period of history I keep coming back to is WW2 in the Mediterranean, especially from the perspective of clandestine operations, raids and similar. Anything set in the Greek islands will always have my attention - shades of the Guns of Navarone - and so I have reading about various facets of this type of warfare. The two titles you see above are already in my collection - the SAS book came from a boot sale - but the newest addition concerns the exploits of the Special Boat Squadron. The book covers the Aegean as well as all the other theatres the men of the SBS saw service - including the Far East.

Planes, ships, vehicles, figures, artillery pieces and terrain items - all very useful and the inspiration for many thoughts within thoughts, schemes within schemes and plans within plans….

Finally, a most welcome package arrived from that well known bon vivant, wit and raconteur- the Jolly Broom Man - who was having a bit of clear out and kindly asked me If I was interested in the above bits and pieces from the board game Axis and Allies. Was I ever although I do have rather a lot of this already. There is a cunning plan afoot using much of this material but it is very much a long distance thing. The Jolly Broom Man is a thoroughly decent fellow and my thanks to him for this most welcome gesture - with the veritable apocalypse of things going on at home at the moment the impact of its arrival on my well being was far bigger than the bits and pieces contained therein.

My deepest thanks old chap!

In closing all I can say is that the support of friends and family has been absolutely priceless (many thanks once again) through this most challenging of times and although the above items are fairly low key in their impact and represent the work of but a small passage of time, the simple fact is that I had some time to do them and I feel far more normal having done so.

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Events Have Moved on....

Rather more quickly than anticipated! Laurel (aka SWMBO) will be having the first of potentially three surgical procedures next week. We are hopeful that she can get away with two because if it goes to the third it means that the condition is rather more serious than first realised. The first procedure is very much exploratory in nature with the second being the one that hopefully puts her right. She is in great hands as her surgeon is one of only two in the UK that can perform the procedure she will be having.

With this in mind I shall once again be 'going off the grid' for a short while but rest assured that during my absence thoughts will be thought, schemes will be schemed and plans will be planned....

See Y'awl on the other side!

Sunday, 3 October 2021

The Way We Were….

Not a bad selection of types. I have around 75 of the above moulded in three colours - the shade you see above, red/brown and green. Not bad for 50p for three bags of 25 or so figures - £1.50 in all. They look rather like the troops from the film Starship Troopers.

Now that I am back in the gaming saddle, after a fashion, I figured it would be a good idea to take stock of where I am and why I am there. Previously I have mentioned that I have been undertaking a lot of reading and the thinking of great thoughts, scheming of great schemes and planning of great plans. Sort of.

Actually is is not hugely different from previously but it now has the benefit of some clarity of purpose.

Five more ships for the Confederates. The ‘sun ray’ effect on the paddle boxes is etched into the MDF although I have deepened the lines to take paint better.

ACW is ‘front and centre’ once again. Work has resumed on the remaining ships for the collection and alongside of this will be the redrafting of the naval rules into a more reader friendly format. I also have the small matter of penning an article for the Naval Wargames Society about, you’ve guessed it, my ACW ships and how they got there. In truth I feel positively energised about all three of these so let the creating (re)commence!

On the subject of the ACW there is something for the land side in the offing that will work really nicely with the ships. I will say no more at this time and in truth it is a way off yet but it will serve to complete the ACW collection.

The new version of the bases will not have a square hole in the base that would have been framed by a dice frame. I shall be using solely a dice frame for the d6.

Due to my draftsman skills being somewhat lacking, the revised sample order from Warbases for my block army movement bases is not quite correct but in truth it has done me a favour as I have been able to further revise them into something far simpler. Essentially I shall be losing the small square hole on the base as the depth of a dice frame will be more than sufficient to hold a small d6. I have a number of actions I want to fight once I have these ready so when the revised designs are back I can make some definitive plans. No details as yet but suffice it to say the Portable Wargame will have centre stage.

My thoughts around skirmish games have moved in numerous directions and the only decision I have reached is that the forces will be around a dozen or so figures a side. The rules from Wiley Games - the ‘Fistful’ series - absolutely tick all the boxes for me in terms of mechanics and ‘flavour’. The jury is out but I have a hankering to tackle the various ideas I have in a larger scale than normal - 40mm or larger, just for the fun of it as I fancying a painting challenge!

On the subject of larger scales I forgot to mention about the selection I picked up at a boot sale some weeks ago. I had seen a couple of painted samples of these on a Facebook group  and thought they looked rather nice so I was very pleased to pick up three packs of these, each of which contained around 25 figures so I have a nice selection (too many really) to work with. They are obviously Sci-Fi and are roughly 45mm. I just need to source some opposition but needless to say I have a couple of ideas floating around.

The Crusades are a slow burner in whatever shape I decide to tackle them - as a cheap source of material I have a whole pile of Risk: Medieval figures which could be pressed into service. I am very much at the occasional reading and research phase for this so it will not be happening anytime soon. 

So, in closing, I am once again rummaging around in the swampy bayous of the Confederate South - looking forward with renewed vigour.

For now anyway!

Friday, 1 October 2021

Gently Easing Back Into Things

An excellent companion to the author's title on Crusader Armies

 It has been a challenging time at Maison Crook for a variety of reasons, most of which have been mentioned previously. As the initial shock of the 'triple-whammy' has now subsided somewhat to more manageable levels so we have been able to take stock of what has happened and the implications going forwards. Make no mistake, none of the outcomes are particularly appealing but at least we are now better placed to plan accordingly and so can resume what passes for normal life in our neck of the woods. 

I should also say that all the messages and emails received have been enormously appreciated and I thank each and everyone of you for taking the time to do so.

I will not go into details about all of it but the one positive is that we finally have a diagnosis for the affliction that has been troubling Laurel for some years and with increasing severity. She will require a surgical procedure, possibly two depending on whether or not the first one works, and this is likely to be in the next month or so. It is a serious condition and with potentially dire consequences if left hence the urgency. It will not be pleasant - surgical procedures rarely are - but at least it is progress and hopefully a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. In any event, at least we now know what we are dealing with.

Now that we have sort of come to terms with the various travails that are besetting us I have at last been able to clear some all important head space. From a practical perspective it means that I will some capacity to tackle some gaming related bits and pieces - especially now that I shall be reactivating the lounge based work station - at Laurel's suggestion I might add - that I used to have prior to when we decorated. I am delighted about this as it means that I can resume work on the ACW ships rather more conveniently than being exiled to the man cave. I hope to get this set up over the weekend. I have also been able to make some rather better decisions about the grand disposal I was planning. This will still go ahead but on a rather more modest scale.

The 28th of September was of course my birthday (again, many thanks for all the good wishes) and this year, perhaps due to the deluge of adversity we have been dealing with, as a family we may a great day of it. Of immediate interest I received some £65 of Amazon gift cards which are always most welcome and I have already invested some of the balance.

The big 'retainer' of my planned disposal concerns the Crusades. Despite having disposed of a couple of books from this part of the library I have decided to persevere with the period and so have in mind a couple of ideas to play around with in due course. Rather embarrassingly and as a result of this decision I needed to replace one of the books that I had disposed of - Crusader Armies by the author of the book pictured above.

I should be taking delivery of the revised movement trays for the block armies soon so I shall ready these and post on the blog in due course. I want to get then painted first of all before doing so, to capture the full effect.  

There is also the small matter of finishing the write up of the ACW naval rules and an article I am penning for the Naval Wargames Society.

My head is in a far better place now and I feel far more inclined to spend time on gaming stuff which should prove to be a welcome distraction. It is good to be back!

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Ticking Over (Sort of)

No details, no clues but part of the smorgasbord of randomness circulating in the cavernous expanse of my  imagination

 The past couple of weeks have flown by, mostly for all the wrong reasons, but here I am once again! The good news is that Laurel is finally in the system and so is waiting on her initial appointment with the neurologist. This should be by the end of the year. We can then plan next stages etc which will be great news for her and all of us. My brother in law is as well as can be expected under the circumstances but he remains in good sprits although West Ham United losing to Manchester United will not have cheered him up! We have had a further domestic situation to deal with on top of all this - I will not go into details for various reasons - so life at Maison Crook has not exactly been a barrel of laughs.

One must maintain an air of sang froid though, and muddle through, which is what we do.

Needless to say gaming activity has been at a minimum and in truth I have really been unenthusiastic about anything other than looking for stuff to dispose of. I did a little work on the remaining ACW ships but my heart was really not in it so I stepped back and left it alone. I have tackled a lot of reading though, that and thinking about stuff which is my usual default option when life gets in the way.

The slightly modified bases for the block armies are in the hands of Warbases which I am looking forward to receiving. I have some writing to catch up on - the ACW rules as well as an article for Battlefleet (the journal of the Naval Wargames Society) - as well as a few ideas that are circling around.

The biggest thought that has been occupying rather a lot of my time is not what I want to do, rather what I do not want to do. This is the opposite to how I would usually approach my gaming and rather surprisingly it seems to make rather more sense than focussing on what I want! There has been a lot of stuff identified that is now surplus to requirements.

In summary then, and not trying to be too bleak, things are likely to be low key for the foreseeable future although beneath the surface thoughts are being thought, schemes are being schemed and plans are being planned.

Not a great deal different from usual then….

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Resistance is Futile? Not really!

Picked up cheaply from a boot sale sometime ago (20p as I recall) and a cracking read, full of ideas for skirmishes, almost at a role playing level in some cases. I MUST get a copy of the hardback version!

 I have always been interested in the exploits of the various resistance groups that operated against the Germans during WW2. The most obvious one, at least in the West, is of course the French resistance although naturally there are many more. Linked with this is of course the involvement of the men and women of the SOE. For the moment I shall confine myself to the operations that took place on the island of Crete following the German invasion that culminated in the capture of the German General Kriepe by Patrick Leigh Fermor and others and immortalised in the book (and film) Ill Met by Moonlight.

The book you see above traces the story of the secret war to make use of the various resistance groups assisted by operatives from SOE. It is story of high drama, stealth, derring-do and endurance. The stakes were high and the repercussions against civilians when an operation was successfully carried out were usually brutal. The whole of the Greek islands are an ideal stamping ground for raids and similar alongside the inserted agents - in many ways there are parallels with what Lawrence and company were doing in Arabia during the Great War - providing specialist support and expertise to the local resistance groups (who occasionally cooperated with one another, but not always).

From a a gaming perspective operations of this sort offer a wealth of potential. Everything from company level sweeps by the occupying forces, ambushes, raids and sabotage operations - all of which are eminently playable. They also have the inestimable advantage of not needing much in the way of material.

In many ways there are two types of operations to consider. There is the purely military type - think the Special Boat Squadron or Long Range Desert Group - and then there is the resistance style of action, with or without the support of the SOE.

Certainly something to think about and in terms of the material needed very achievable. Many of the figures would be easy enough to find although I do not know of anyone that makes Cretan irregulars foe WW2 - yet anyway!

Monday, 30 August 2021

Bank Holiday Bargain Book Bonanza

 In all their glory and looking for a new home (or two!)

This is the final post of the three mentioned yesterday - I will then be ‘going dark’ for a week or two. I would like to thank everyone that has sent their best wishes to Laurel and to my brother in law - in both cases they are vert much appreciated. I shall be responding and emailing in due course over the next couple of days. 

I will also be doing the same in respect of the latest Block related post - the comments received were very encouraging indeed and more than ever I know I have made the correct decision to ‘pimp’ them. 

On a practical note the titles below are currently up for disposal and to save hassle I am looking at a flat price of £7.50 per title excluding postage. I will consider deals so if anything takes your fancy then drop me a line at the usual to discuss in detail.

The War of the Three Gods - Peter Crawford
Armies and Enemies of the Crusades (2nd Ed.) - Ian Heath

God’s Warriors - Helen Nicholson/David Nicole
The Crusader Armies - Steve Tibble
Crusaders - Dan Jones
God’s War - Christopher Tyerman
Warrior’s of God - James Reston Jnr.
The Art of War in the Middle Ages - Volume 1 and 2 - Sir Charles Oman (note each volume has an inscription)
Matchlocks to Flintlocks - William Urban
Bayonets and Scimitars - William Urban
The ‘45 - Christopher Duffy
A Few Bloody Noses - Robert Harvey
Rebels and Redcoats - Hugh Bicheno
Death before Glory - Martin Howard
The Forgotten War against Napoleon - Gareth Glover
Wellington’s Eastern Front - Nick Lipscombe
Wellington in the Peninsula - Jac Weller
A Commanding Presence - Ian Robertson
Return of a King - William Dalrymple
Pathan Rising - Mark Simner
The Malakand Field Force - Winston Churchill 
Khyber - Charles Miller
The North West Frontier - Michael Barthorp
Our Friends beneath the Sands - Martin Windrow
Destination Dardanelles - Michael Wilson
The Wolf - Richard Guilliatt/Peter Hohnen
Allenby’s War - David Bullock
Pyramids and Fleshpots and From Gaza to Jerusalem - Stuart Hadaway
Palestine - Edward Erickson
The Defence and Fall of Greece - John Carr
Perilous Committments - Matthew Willingham
Operation Mercury - John Sadler
The First Burma Campaign - Col. E. Foucar
Midway: Dauntless Victory - Peter Smith
The Unforgettable Army - Michael Hickey
Guadalcanal - Adrian Stewart 
Dogfight - Toby Holmes
Aces of the Reich - Mike Spick
Operation Barbarossa - Robert Kirchubel
Stalingrad - Antony Beevor
Russia’s War - Richard Overy
Absolute War - Chris Bellamy
War of the Century - Laurence Rees

Once again many thanks for all the kind thoughts and best wishes etc - the wargaming fraternity never ceases to let me down in respect of its general bonhomie!

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Block Changes or Why Didn’t I Think of This Before?

The three examples (best viewed ‘blown up’). The one on the right shows the constituent parts. The small triangle fits along the top edge (there is a triangle marked there) whilst the dice frame forms the edge of the pre cut square. I miscalculated this as I did not allow for the thickness of the frame itself as this should line up with the central recess. The thicker lower edge will have a strip of magnetic paper so that unit ids can be used.

In what seems like an age ago I mentioned about the plans I had to ‘pimp’ the block armies. Aside from the  ‘weapon’ counters (designed for the pre gunpowder and mechanised eras) I also looked at producing some movement trays that could be useful for games where a grid is not used. After some rather hasty designs were drafted and sent to those very nice people at Warbases, a small Jiffy bag arrived with some samples of what I was looking for.

Aside from a small error in the alignment of the dice square - easily rectified - these are just what I wanted. By using a combination of a dice frame and a reduced number of blocks (2 each for infantry and cavalry and a single for artillery) within the footprint of a movement tray I will not only have effectively doubled the size of the block army collection but I will also be able fight battles on a non-gridded basis. The small triangle along the leading edge of the base will be used to indicate the unit facing.

I plan to have two sets of these bases - one in green and one in a sand colour - and I am also planning one other design of base to complete the set up but for now I feeling pretty pleased with this latest iteration of the block armies. I am only peeved that I did nt think of this idea a lot sooner!

The Real World - the First of Three Posts

 It has been a trying couple of weeks and so the blog has suffered accordingly. This will be the first of three posts and then there will be a shortish interlude whilst certain things play out.

I am well although I have been under enormous pressure both at work and home. In the case of the latter my wife has at last found out what the cause of her chronic back pain (and associated loss of sleep as well as mobility issues) is. This has taken around five years to diagnose but at last we now know what the problem is and so the next step will be to decide what the treatment regime will be. The options are medication, medication and physio or medication, physio and surgery. The good news is that the middle option of the three is the more likely although we will not know until we see the Neurologist. In the meantime she is taking industrial quantities of painkillers but remains functional albeit not to the level she would prefer!

The other news concerns my brother in law (Laurel’s older brother). You may recall my mentioning him previously - he is an ex-paratrooper that served in Aden during the Radfan campaign - on his visits to the UK. He is a Canadian citizen now and lives in Vancouver. We also found out a few weeks ago that he has stage 4 Lung Cancer and is now receiving palliative care. For the record I should oint out hat he has never smoked in all his 76 years!

Gordie, Laurel’s brother, is quite a character, even in the face of what he going through. He remains his usual cheerful self although tires easily. West Ham United’s start to the season has given him much enjoyment and he was even able to visit his local pub (actually affiliated to the British legion) for a shandy to see his mates. I have enjoyed numerous visits to various UK military museums with him when he has been over here - usually with a beer or six - as well as his range of service anecdotes.

His sang froid is quite humbling. He said to me that he has had a great life and that he will fight to the end because as a paratrooper (he NEVER says ‘ex’) it is what he is trained to do - to fight against the odds and although these are stacked against him he will keep on giving it his all.

He has been told to get his affairs in order and the prognosis is anything up to a year. 

The news has hit hard and unfortunately the possibility of getting to Vancouver to see him will be very difficult given Laurel’s health situation as well as the Covid restrictions in place in Canada - these are due to be reduced for overseas travellers in a week or so.

Needless to say I am sure you can appreciate that anything hobby related - however welcome the distraction would be - has been absolutely minimal.

We are in regular contact with him which helps and as mentioned, he remains unflaggingly cheerful - I have nothing but the utmost respect for him.

We have come to terms with what will be happening - as well as we can - although I am sure you cab appreciate it has been a torrid time.

I mentioned that this will be the first of three posts - the next two are gaming related (thankfully) - and so the following will be far more usual in content!

Monday, 16 August 2021

Blocks and Bases

The initial design - note the facing triangle, the strip for a name label and the frame for a dice for recording strength points. Note the 'border' around where the block(s) fit.

One of my original blocks - the space will take two half blocks easily as they are slightly smaller than a full sized version due to the saw cut when they were chopped in half.

 I have had a bit of a rethink about the whole ‘tokens to indicate weapon types’ idea I mooted previously. I am not going to do it! A far easier idea would be to print off the appropriate symbols and mount them in turn on MDF bases - in this case 20mm diameter circular ones - which in turn would then be placed on the blocks forming the specific unit. This idea is how Command and Colours: Medieval indicates bow armed cavalry so if it is good enough for Richard Borg then who am I to argue?

This will be one half of what I am planning for the block armies with the other being something base related. 

Some time ago I mentioned one of the problems I have with the block armies in that it is not always obvious which way they are facing. When using a grid based system this is not really much of a problem but could be when using them on a normal table top. I had considered using some form of standard deployed at the front of the block(s) in question but despite my best efforts I could never really get it to work. I have settled on a solution though, which I hope will further increase the potential of my block armies. 

I am working on the design for a base for a single half block and one for a full sized (in this case that will usually be two half sized blocks) version. The bases are essentially movement trays but with a couple of differences. To begin with the two longer facing sides of the base (the blocks will be orientated with the long sides top and bottom) will be deeper than just the more usual ‘edged’ variety - 5mm deep along the top and 10mm at the bottom.. The top edge will have a laser cut MDF triangle fixed to the centre so that this will satisfy the facing requirement. On the rear edge I will have a dice frame positioned to one side leaving sufficient space for a strip of magnetic paper. The former will be to indicate the strength points of the unit whilst the latter can be used to hold a magnetic unit identity strip. All I would need to do would be to type out the name of the unit, print it out and stick to some magnetic paper which in turn will go onto the back of the base.

I would look to make two sets of bases - a green set and one in a sand colour and in terms of how they will be used the smaller base, holding a single half block, would be used for small detachments or similar - in the ‘modern’ era I would use this for infantry support weapons and such like - whereas the the larger base will be for a full sized unit.

To the purist the prospect of blocks on movement trays probably seems a little close to being a board game rather than a wargame but for me it represents something quite radical. By using these movement trays I will be able to consider using all manner of rules other than purely grid based ones.

The next step will be to get that very nice man at Warbases to work his magic!

Sunday, 15 August 2021

Nautical Boot Sale Bargains

 Two welcome titles for the WW2 naval section of my library. The Tirpitz needs little introduction as to her life and eventual destruction at the hands of the RAF so this is a nice account of the Bismarck’s sister ship. Fraser of North Cape traces the life and career of the man responsible for the sinking of the Scharnhorst as well as taking command of the Far Eastern fleet in 1944.

It is fair to say that the pickings at our local boot sale have been rather slim of late but today I was able to help restore a degree of equilibrium with the acquisition of the two titles above. Each of these are hardback first editions in good condition - no inscriptions - and cost me the princely sum of £1 each.

WW2 naval is not a new project for me by any means and I have a few ideas in a long distance orbit kind of a way - mainly involving 1:1200th scale ships just to be different….

Something to ponder and also a good excuse to dust off my copy of General Quarters (part 1) as well coming bang up to date with Find, Fix and Strike by David Manley. 

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Looks like a Monitor - but isn’t!

The latest addition to the Union fleet - the U.S.S. Keokuk. She carried two 11” guns mounted on pivots with one in each gun house, the foremost of these - the  ‘pear’ shaped one - has a small pilot house built in. She is slightly darker than the picture shows as the picture was taken under artificial light. the rather fetching choppy looking 'sea' is in fact a cushion!

The U.S.S. Keokuk (originally known as the U.S.S. Moodna) was not a model that was going to feature in my collection but for a chance exchange of messages with David Manley. I am sure he will not not mind me telling you all that he has a soft spot for this ship!

U.S.S. Keokuk in action. She was hit over 90 times but was still able to withdraw from the scene only to sink later. In this picture she appears to be trying reverse out of harm’s way!

The model used the hull from the decommissioned nuclear submarine sized version I built of the C.S.S. Manassas. It is still too large for the Keokuk - in what passes for scale in my collection it really needed to be around three quarters of a inch shorter - but it will do. The two gun houses were made from balsa wood sanded into shape - the forward one is a pear shape whilst the aft is circular. In truth it did not take long to build.

The ship itself had a very short career - one month of commissioned service - and was proven to be but lightly protected despite being an ironclad. The general consensus is that she might have fared rather better against a floating target rather than a large rebel fortress!

Now that she has joined the Union fleet and I have managed to get my constructive gene back into action I can press on with the remaining models, particularly the side wheelers. I also seriously need to think about some shore defences including some purpose built forts.