Friday, 24 July 2015

It’s an ill wind and all that.

Fathers’ Day and yet more loft sorting yielded some good reads which have taken up the slack caused by no painting (to speak of). I haven’t got a loft like the Tardis, but it does hide a multitude of sins, not least of which is my accumulation of books and such. I hesitate to describe it as a library because that implies some sort of order and method, which is the last impression you’d get if you penetrated the area. I’m similarly gifted in my reading discipline in that now, well separated from work and academia (don’t get the wrong impression!) I read books in just about any order I want. Luckily I am faddish so there is often a theme to my reading, but I am known on occasion to have several books of widely divergent subjects on the go at the same time. Except for novels: novels are read one at a time. 

So, in no particular order, I’ve highlighted a few books below from the battery of books I’ve read recently which are well worth a read and a couple which are maybe worth skipping if you haven’t got long to live. If you don’t like this list, I have others . . . .

Decision in Normandy - Carlo D’Este (Penguin; New Ed edition (29 April 2004); ISBN 10: 0141017619)

Quite a painful read about the command decisions in the Normandy Campaign and the relationship between Montgomery and the other Allied commanders. Not just Ike and Bradley, but Tedder, Conningham, Harris, Churchill and his own divisional and brigade commanders too. It’s an excellent book and should become a standard text for this campaign.

Well written and easy to read, it’s an unbiased and truly warts and all approach which also raises some interesting questions. I cleared the five hundred-odd pages in less than a week, even though it’s heavy in detail in places. My only winge is that it could have done with better maps, but that gets said about almost all military titles.

The Germans in Normandy -  Richard Hargreaves (Pen & Sword Military; 1st Edition edition (21 Sept. 2006); ISBN 10: 1844154475)

It’s useful and gives a reasonable view from the German perspective, but the dearth of German sources published in English probably exaggerates its worth. Hargreaves has an annoying habit of translating German words and phrases too literally: Widerstandsnest (WN) is translated as ‘nest of resistance’ rather than simply resistance nest or even strongpoint. However, it’s much better than Paul Carrel’s ‘Invasion – They’re Coming!’ which is pretty dire: outdated and badly translated.

Prelude to Waterloo Quatre Bras: The French Perspective – Andrew Field (Pen & Sword Military (14 July 2014); ISBN 10: 1783463848)

Waterloo: The French Perspective – Andrew Field (Pen & Sword Books Ltd (21 May 2012); ISBN 10: 1781590435)

I enjoyed both these books, but the Quatre Bras title more. As Field says, the French lost so there are nowhere nearly as many French sources as British. The Germans (all types!) and Dutch-Belgians are given a fair crack of the whip, though I’m sure Herr Hoffschroer would find something to moan about.

Both books give an interesting run down on the armies and commanders involved and, if you’re a fan of the 1815 campaign, both books are worth adding to your collection. However, the maps are good, so there must be something wrong somewhere.  

Now, that’s it for the military stuff so those who read nowt else can finish here. The rest of you, who have an imagination and who obviously appreciate good reading should continue. (Pause for smug smile . . . .)

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury Paperbacks; Tie-In edition (9 April 2015); ISBN 10: 1408856883)

You’ve seen it on the telly (or maybe you haven’t), but, as usual, the book is even better. A thousand or so pages of pseudo Dickensian prose with phoney footnotes about the renaissance of English magic. If you want a long, amusing and well written book, then this is one for you. Unfortunately, is contains some howlers and it’s obvious Ms Clarke isn’t steeped in the period, but it’s only pretend anyway.


The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; Children's edition (5 Oct. 2009); ISBN 10: 0747594805)

This is technically teenage fiction, but it’s a great read. Essentially, it’s about a boy who is brought up by a vampire and ghosts in a graveyard. He ended up in this situation because he escaped the murder of his parents, although the perpetrator intended to kill the whole family. How to educate the boy and keep him safe when you yourself have fairly limiting difficulties? Yes, it’s ridiculous, but it’s also excellent.

Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman (Headline Review (19 Sept. 2005); ISBN 10: 0755322800)

I was set off on a short Neil Gaiman fest by that last book and this one is a fantasy classic which has been adapted for TV and radio. A young man accidentally gets involved with the inhabitants of ‘London Below’, an alternative London whose population lead a parallel, semi-magical existence. The place throbs with intrigue and there might even be war. Mssrs Croup and Vandemar are possibly the best and most soulless villains in literature. Get it read!

Good Omens – Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett (Corgi (11 Dec. 2014); ISBN 10: 0552171891)

An angel and a demon rubbing shoulders with the hoy polloy? Even worse, they join forces to save humanity! I’m not the world’s biggest Terry Pratchett fan – I think he simply got into the habit of churning out pot boilers even though there are some excellent books in his (very long) canon. Nevertheless, this is a classic.

I make no apologies for the inclusion of three Neil Gaiman books. He’s not only a very good writer, but his ideas and imagination are exceptional. The references for the books are for editions you can buy nowadays.


I’ve unashamedly swiped the idea of including whimsies and points of interest from a well respected and popular blogger. It’s not an original idea of mine at all, but it is a very good idea. Just thought I ought to mention that.

Those of you who actually read this stuff rather than just looking at the pictures (I know there are some who do) will maybe have noticed that I begin quite a few paragraphs/sentences with ‘so’. So, I want to point out that this isn’t the effect of the new fad of beginning every answer with ‘so’, which is becoming as insufferable as the seemingly unstoppable march of the upward inflection at the end of every sentence; it’s just me – done it forever. I fell into a despond the other night when I was watching a programme on the telly. I realised a succession of academics had adopted the ‘so’ habit, even quite sensible looking ones who were allowed to stay up late on a school night. Just shows how BBC2 has slipped over the years.

By the way, the leprosy appears to have had something of a shock accidentally administered by a week’s dosage of antibiotics, intended for something else. The upshot is that whatever was affecting my hands seems to have been given a thorough hammering by said medication and the latest in a long line of emollients. Could well be on the mend at last. Paint brushes this weekend then.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Necessity . . . .

As you’ve probably noticed, for years I've mounted figures for painting on the plastic caps from 'coke' bottles: cost nothing, disposable and keep your greasy fingers off the figures. However, I've recently been having trouble with  my hands and now find the bottle tops hard to cope with - no sense of touch in my fingers, so I'm continually dropping the figures I'm working on. My solution is to join the happy throng who use wine bottle corks – got some new, ‘plastic’ ones from a home brew supplier. They are much easier to grip, but there’s a disadvantage in that they're inherently unstable and much worse when they've got a figure mounted on top. The immediate solution was to bung a piece of Blu-Tac (or another type of reusable adhesive putty!) on the bottom so they grip the painting table, but this is a pain.

The good news is that, when placed flat on the table with the larger holes uppermost, Warbases' Paint Bottle Rack is ideal for holding the corks and with the smaller holes at the bottom of the frame, the corks don't fall through. I bought another rack to house those figures which have been prepped and mounted and are awaiting painting. However, this is far too big to go on my painting table and I needed a ‘sawn off’ version to hold the figures actually being painted.

At Partizan I spoke briefly with Diane from Warbases about the possibility of them modifying their Paint Bottle Rack to become a holder for figures when painting. After a quick exchange of emails and a couple of shots of a prototype Martin had put together (despite my best efforts they understood what I meant!), I ordered a few to be collected at Phalanx last week. They’re about a third the size of the paint rack with the holes more widely spaced to allow me to get my sticky little fingers in and the bottom of the rack is simply a blank plate. Add to this that they only cost £3 each and ‘dead chuffed’ is an understatement.

So, what might be described as my handling system for painting 28mm figures has had a revamp. Nothing original, but, to give a quick run down:

Foot figures are mounted on wine corks. These new 'plastic' corks to which you can fix leads with PVA or Blu-Tac look like they’ll last forever. 

Horses get fixed (Blu-Tac) to wooden 'Jenga' blocks. They’re not the real thing, but a cheap version from ‘Tesco’ – fifty odd for about a fiver as I remember.

Riders get a small hole drilled in the region of their prostate and superglued to the business end of a roofing clout - they snap out easily and you can simply tidy up the end of the clout with a pen knife. I've got some lengths of timber baton with holes drilled in at intervals to take the heads of the clouts so I can stand the figures up during painting.

For now, 15mm figures are still mounted on ‘lolly sticks’. Not ideal, but more manageable than bottle tops.

Just in case anybody’s wondering, no, I haven’t any connection with Warbases and yes, I did pay for the frames. I don’t actually know Martin or Diane, but I’d recommend their company without reservation. I’ve been using their bases and gaming aids for a while now and I’m happy with the goods and the service. Finally, although the frames aren’t a catalogue item, if you ask them they’ll knock some out for you.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

A Post Haste Post

And so it came to pass that, as the man sat there scratching his bum wondering where time had gone (the tide hadn’t waited around either, pausing only to leave a clean mark on his neck), he received a visitation from a friend, not from Galilee or anywhere exotic, but from a place just north east of Stockport. He looked upon him and spake thus:  “Blimey, you’ve been quiet. What’s up?” The friend was not an Angel of the Lord; in fact he was very far removed from that role and certainly wouldn’t make it to a short list if such a post was available. The man sighed and showed his friend his scarred and bleeding hands. “It’s some sort of skin thing. They say it’s caused by some chemical contact or other, but they haven’t really got a clue. There’s no sense of touch and so I’m constantly dropping things and can’t pick up anything smaller than, say a cup or a book. It’s a bugger.”
The friend winced. “Eh, that looks bad. It isn’t catching is it?” The man smirked and said “No, it’s just my own little, painful thing. Sort of stigmata for people who don’t really know what stigmata are. It’s a kind of dry skin thing, but they have no idea what. I’m off to the Ossie eventually. In the meantime, I have a selection of creams and balms which are all useless save for one I’m thinking of keeping to grease wheel nuts and the like.”
The man and his friend had a consolatory glass of rum and considered the problem.
“Can you still paint your soldiers?” asked the friend. “I bet they’re a bit of a fiddle to get a grip of.”
“Well, sort of,” said the man “It takes an age though and controlling the brush is a pig of a job. Still, I’ve managed to knock out a few bits, mainly just to prove I still can.” And he showed him these:

Hessian Brigadier

French Divisional General

French skirmishers

That’s not all though as there have been various rebasings (ugh!) and such, mainly because the devil makes work for idle hands. I’ve rethought a few things, particularly the size of the cavalry units and the issue over grenzers fighting as line infantry and/or skirmishers. The cavalry regiments looked like juggernauts compared to the infantry battalions, particularly Russian and Austrian light cavalry, so they’ve been chopped down to size. As I’m still a Shako II fan as well as scribbling my own set, the four figure squadrons look to represent about 200 men, which is far too many. However, if you reduce the units by 50%, you’ll have 100 man squadrons, which are much more realistic and pretty typical for units on campaign. Once the regiments took the field and natural wastage took effect (stragglers, accidents, detachments etc.), they could be down by 20-25% on book strength. The difference with the ‘standardised’ units in rules like Shako, LFS and March Attack is that I vary the number of squadrons, so French regiments have four (sometimes three) squadrons and, say, Austrian light cavalry in 1809 have eight with proportionally larger strength points etc. Up to now it seems to work, but it does mean that I now have a massively over strength cavalry arm!

By the way, this exercise resulted in a requirement for extra command figures, which is a bit of a problem as some manufacturers can be a bit cagey about filling orders made up exclusively of command packs, if only for the fact that moulds are most commonly made up of a combination of command and line figures. Thankfully, a quick exchange of emails with Ian Marsh (Fighting 15’s) sorted me out and he’s (painfully) going to cast up the extras and chuck the redundant troopers back in the pot. Big pat on the back for him then!

The grenzers presented another problem as nobody can decide once and for all whether they were exclusively skirmishers or line troops or both. They certainly varied in quality though and they appear to have functioned as both types of unit. Added to this, Archduke Charles (Austria’s key player) wasn’t a big fan of skirmishing because they it win battles simply because the units lack ‘weight’. So, extravagant though it may be, my grenzer battalions (and, later, the Russian jagers) are being strengthened with a couple of extra bases each to allow them to function as line or skirmish troops. The first one like this:

It's likely that the enforced silence will continue for a while with only periodic interruptions as it’s been quite painful typing this. (Type less then, you klutz!) I doubt anyone will pine for the strange ideas and Dickensian sentences. I spend a fair bit of painting time droppnig things and repainting parts because brush control is pretty poor. Over the past while though, being restricted as to what I can actually do, I’ve been thinking many thoughts, including the inevitable “What’s the point?” I don’t mean I’ve been pricing up rope, but over the years I’ve seen people lose the burn for wargames and even become quite stressed about it, sometimes because they’re tired of chasing the impossible dream or even because they feel guilty at the size of the lead pile) or even just overwhelmed by it). So, some things to think about:

Do I enjoy my hobby?
Which part of my hobby is my favourite?
Do I want more than I need?
Am I doing this for myself or to impress others?
Do I purchase more ‘stuff’ to make me feel good or will it lead to more stress/guilt?

These questions are, I think, worth mulling over because they certainly focused my mind. I don’t doubt we’d all answer positively at first, but, later, there’s likely to be the odd seed of doubt. There must be dozens of reasons for blogging about the hobby just as there must be for many of the linked activities. There are people who simply like to paint figures and others who like to collect. I’ve said before that if I’m not interested in the period, there’s no chance of any wargame involvement, which can only mean that the history is a big driver for me.