Friday 17 December 2021

Last Post for 2021

“Let’s hope its a good one, without any fear…”

 I realise it is probably a little on the early side but as I have rather a lot on over the next couple of weeks I thought I would sign off until next year - probably late in January given Laurel’s scheduled surgery on the 6th of January.

I will not be sorry to see the back of this year for a variety of reasons - most of which I have mentioned via the blog but with a few others in reserve. I have found it to be hugely helpful (to me in any event) using the blog as a vehicle to convey the various trial and tribulations that my family and I have experienced (and continue to do so) this year. The positive comments and words of support and encouragement - both on and off the blog - have been really appreciated as they have helped me over any number of rough spots over the last six months or so.

These are debts, large and small that I will never be able to repay other than to say that I will reciprocate the sentiment in equal measure when and where needed.

The new job is intense in ways I had not considered but very much in a positive way. Going from a small agency into a global spanning organisation was always going to be a cultural shock but with the support of the team I have joined I am confident that in time I will have a positive impact. 

We are mentally preparing ourselves for when Laurel is in hospital and also for her recovery afterwards. For the Nth time I am hugely grateful for the fact that my new role is remote rather than office based! We shall be visiting the hospital for Laurel’s Pre Op on 30th December - I am off work for the three days ‘twixt Christmas and the New Year - which should be a pretty quick process and then it is dropping her off  at 7am on the 6th. 

Oddly enough I ave been able to spend a little more time on gaming related bits and pieces and so work on the remaining ACW ships has resumed once again. I have also been looking at ideas around Operation Market Garden as well as something Colonial/VSF based. 

Mention of VSF reminds me that Steve Blease is rumoured to be working on an updated version of Aeronef - the game of Victorian aerial combat - and his page of Facebook showed a couple of recent games he has played. The models in use were scratch built dirigibles modelled by yours truly and sold to him years ago. It was great seeing these again and needless to say my thoughts have once again turned towards repeating the project. The funny thing is that I was also looking at using up a whole load of MDF hull templates to build some Cloudships and Sky Galleons based on Frank Chadwick’s Space 1889 series.

There is a project in there waiting to get out methinks….

I am still harbouring ideas for some skirmish style games using figures but as yet I have not really done much with the idea. There is also the block army refurbishment to think about and also getting back into some good old hex and counter board games.

Plenty to be going on with so no change there then!

Daniel Craig’s final Bond

I also finally got to see the final Daniel Craig Bond film: No Time to Die. I enjoyed it hugely although ca understand why some may have been underwhelmed by it. Bond came across as rather more mellow than in his previous appearances although still with the ‘grit’ element when needed. I have a theory as to how he will be ‘resurrected’ (he did say it was his hobby in Skyfall after all!) with a new actor taking up the mantle. Suffice it to say (and I will probably be completely wrong) that one should read the book of You Only Live Twice followed by The Man With the Golden Gun to see where my thoughts are on this one.

In the meantime though I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas and all the best for a peaceful, prosperous and above all, healthy 2022 as well as, once again, offering my sincerest thanks.

See you all in the new year,

Thursday 9 December 2021

"Der Tag"

S.M.S. Kaiser of the German High Seas Fleet during World War 1

 As a very brief follow up to my previous post - with, as ever many thanks for all the kind words and thoughts, either on the blog or otherwise - we have the date in the calendar for Laurel's surgery as well as some background on what exactly is going on with her. "Der Tag" is January 6th 2022 so let us hope that this can be stuck to given events in the Covid world (number 10 Christmas parties notwithstanding....). The neurosurgeon has said around three hours for the surgery, four days in hospital and six weeks recovery time and so for the nth time I am hugely relieved that my new job (which I start next Monday) is based on working from home so that I can support her during this time. It is a relief to get some positive progress on the board with this and so hopefully 2022 will get off to a good start as a result.

Laurel is due a call with the consultant beforehand in which he will outline the details of the procedure and the associated recovery etc. It will also be a great opportunity for her to ask any questions she may have and needless to say a list is already forming! The date for this is the 24th December and I will be in close attendance.

"Der Tag" is of course what the Imperial German Navy referred to when clinking glasses of Hoch, Moselle or Schnapps in the ward room when discussing the seemingly inevitable clash with the Royal Navy in the years leading up to the Great War. Of course I am not comparing my beloved to a fleet of dreadnought battleships but given Bob Cordery's recent post about the Fletcher Pratt based Jutland game he took part in, as well as the importance of Laurel's surgery it seemed somehow appropriate....:-)

Monday 6 December 2021

'You're a kite dancing in a hurricane....'

The blog post title was, ahem, borrowed from the film SPECTRE. I have yet to see No Time to Die but will probably binge watch the Daniel Craig sequence in order before doing so.

For the last six months I have certainly felt like the title of this post for sure! On Friday last week Laurel had a long conversation with her Neurologist following her latest set of scans. The good news is that the suspected AVM/AVF does not in fact exist - the bad news is that she has what appears to be a benign Ependymona or tumour growing on her spine. They wanted her in for surgery this week but she deferred until January for two reasons. Firstly, another few weeks would not make any difference to her condition and secondly, she wanted to get Christmas and the New Year out of the way first. The surgery will take around three hours with a four day stay in hospital and a six week recovery period. With this in mind the fact that my new job is fully remote is a godsend as obviously I will be on hand to help her during her recovery. Needless to say this latest diagnosis came as a bit of a shock so we have spent a relatively quiet weekend coming to terms with it and carrying out some routine domestic chores.

The film of the Battle of the Bulge was certainly not Hollywood's finest hour but for all that it was an entertaining romp in a Flames of War kind of way!

I managed to get a few gaming related bits and pieces attended to especially around packaging some long outstanding parcels (apologies again to Aly and tradgardmastare) and sorting out some books. I have been looking long and hard again at Operation Market Garden as well the Battle of the Bulge which also has a place in the list of campaigns I have studied on and off over the years. I remember completing a free choice school project when I was around 12 about the Bulge campaign and used as the basis a book on battles in Western Europe by, as I recall, David Chandler although I stand to be corrected. the film version starring Henry Fonda and Robert Shaw is probably best left unmentioned despite being pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, if only for sheer entertainment value! The Panzerlied was pretty stirring though despite now being banned for use by the modern German Army.

Aside from the above I managed to rearrange my ship modelling bits and pieces so once I can resume work the raw material I use will be far easier to get at.

I hope to get a few more posts in before the end of the year but depending on when Laurel's surgery is I expect then to be off grid for a while but hopefully not too long.

Onwards and upwards.

Wednesday 1 December 2021

Marcus Aurelius, Omar Khayyam and a New Beginning

Two of my favourite non military books - highly recommended for resetting one’s perspective on life

As we stare down the barrel of the fast approaching Christmas holidays I have often found myself reflecting over the various events of the last six months. There have been numerous ups and downs (rather more of the latter if truth be told) and I am not about to repeat the details of the various travails my family and I have experienced, and, to a certain extent, still are.

The inestimable value of the support of friends and family has never been more gratefully received and unconditionally given than now and that is worthy of high praise in itself. What then, of the times when the darkness seems all encompassing and no light to speak of shines in your direction? For sure I have had a few of those! 

I have previously mentioned that in the absence of any dedicated hobby time I have caught up with a lot of reading which has helped me no end. Aside from the usual round of military history, fantasy and science fiction that constitutes my routine fare, there are a couple of other books in my collection that I seem to have used almost as a form of therapy and are therefore, certainly worth mentioning.

I have enjoyed the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam for many years and the book you see above was picked up at a boot sale sometime ago for 50p. It is unusual in that it features some 500 quatrains (4 line stanza with alternate rhyming lines) rather than the more usual 80 or so that formed Edward Fitzgerald's translation. E.H. Winfield was a translator of Persian literature and so his version is a more literal translation than the more popular Fitzgerald version. It is unlikely that all the 500 or so quatrains were written by Khayyam exclusively - more likely they have been lumped together as examples of a popular type of verse.

Khayyam's work has always appealed to me as it comes across as being unashamed of life and of living and of how we are but a part of it. I find it curiously settling.

I first came across the meditations of Marcus Aurelius via a penguin classic edition many years ago. The rather smart looking hardback you see above was published shortly after the release of the award winning film Gladiator starring Russel Crowe which featured the late Richard Harris playing the emperor Marcus Aurelius. The meditations are very much a list of guidelines as to how one should live one's life and are largely common sense based. Marcus Aurelius was described as being a 'Stoic' and the pages of his works certainly bear this out. Again, I have found many of his writings to be insightful and for me at least, aspirational in that logic and reason - two skills I am less than generously endowed with - should have an important part to play in one's life.

They say that wisdom comes with age and whilst I do not claim to be wise I do appear to have a better handle on the lessons that life has to give and how they impact on me. It also means that the words contained within those two books resonate far more effectively than in the days of my youth.

From the wargaming perspective both of these titles have featured as being support for a couple of projects that I had un days gone by. Many years ago I toyed with the idea of an Islamic Persian army for use with WRG 6th edition but reluctantly abandoned the idea as the painting would have been quite beyond me (at least to the standard I would have liked!). Marcus Aurelius and Gladiator - I had no interest in the armies of this period but I have long enjoyed gladiatorial combat games - it all started with Avalon Hill's Gladiator board game - as a great way to set up quick games that can add numerous players into the mix.

As an aside, another example of how my wargaming mind works goes back to when I first discovered WRG 6th edition ancients. I had a hankering for an Arab Conquest army so I duly undertook the appropriate research and as part of this decided to read the Koran - to see what drove the whole thing historically. It was quite a revelation and without going into detail I was quite taken with it.

Moving away from the above and the rather tenuous wargaming links, I have some other news to share. On the 13th December I shall be joining a new company and recruiting on an 'in house' basis rather than via the agency side. I have long wanted to do this but felt that at 61 years of age that particular ship had sailed. Aside from the very generous salary uplift the best news for me (especially given the current situation with Laurel and her back) is that the role is designed to be fully remote. This means that I will be saving some twelve hours so a week on travelling time as well some £4K a year on a train ticket. I will need to pop into town from time to time but certainly not on a regular basis. The company will supply me with a brand new laptop and mobile phone and any stationary requirements I need are delivered to my home.

I cannot tell you how pleased I am with piece of good news after the horror show of the last six months - for the record I have only touched on some of the 'stuff' we have been dealing with - and so hopefully we will be able to look forward to a 2022 that will be - god willing - better.

Let us hope so....

Sunday 28 November 2021

The Portable Market Garden Wargame

 Two titles from my Operation Market Garden library. The Martin Middlebrook title focuses on the  British Airborne part of the campaign

“This will be a story to tell your grandchildren….and mightily bored they’ll be….!”

First of all a massive thanks to everyone that sent their best wishes to us following Gordie’s passing a week ago. Laurel has especially tasked me to thank you all on her behalf. 

Over the course of the week I found myself thinking about various paratrooper based conversations that Gordie and I had over the years and so my thoughts kept coming back to Operation Market Garden in 1944. The story of course needs no introduction but it certainly captured my imagination when I first began to read about in earnest following the release of the film A Bridge Too Far in 1977. My imagination was properly fired up when I met Laurel in 1980 especially as Christmas of that year Gordie was coming over from Canada for a visit. I remember being in awe of him (and a little bit intimidated if truth be told!) but I needn’t have worried as he really was a top bloke. I remember we visited the Imperial War Museum in South London and he really enjoyed it (and the beers on the way home!). I have probably mentioned that Laurel’s late uncle, Staff Sergeant Gordon Jenks (whom Gordie was named after) of the Airlanding regiment, was captured at Arnhem. The airborne connection in her family is strong as another uncle served in the parachute regiment alongside Gordie.

Gordie always said that the sheer stubbornness in the face of adversity is very much part of the paratrooper DNA due to being lightly equipped and usually outnumbered by a far better armed enemy. They are trained to fight, and fight hard. He regaled me with tales of ‘milling’, the infamous ‘P’ Company and learning to field strip and clean weapons blindfolded. Endless training exercises and peak physical conditioning were paramount. He was hugely proud of his regiment throughout his life and at age 70 was still down the gym three times a week and completing 10K runs.

The Memoir ‘44 campaign map

Fast forward to today and an idea. I wanted to do something to honour Gordie’s memory in a small way and so found myself thinking about Operation Market Garden once again. I have fought the entire campaign on a couple of occasions - once using the board game Hells Highway as the basis for a Command Decision campaign. It was great fun, as was the Memoir ‘44/MOMBAT based refight I reported on the blog here (and I am surprised it was eight years ago!).

From the Flames of War range

The back of the box

The rule book

I rather fancy tackling the campaign using the Portable Wargame for the battles and the contents of the Flames of War Firestorm game of Operation Market Garden to generate them. I would use my block armies for the units involved and the whole thing would be highly stylised and representative rather than a strictly detailed refight. It also has the major attraction of being something that can be picked up and put down as required meaning that other priorities can be addressed alongside of it.

I owned a copy of this some years ago but this was disposed of during one of my periodic clear outs. The replacement copy is courtesy of Mr Fox to whom I am extremely grateful.

Gordie was not a wargamer but he would have been keen to know how the British Airborne were progressing in this most famous of battles. He would have quite sure that they would have acquitted themselves well!  I will of course need to rewatch A Bridge Too Far and reread the book - this time it will be a pleasure of special significance.

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….