"So he got himself a two inch brush and a pot of black enamel"

There are two new(ish) books out on figure painting which I thought deserved mention. To be honest, I’d been doing the “Um, ah” shuffle  for a little while about getting one of them and ended up with both. The first one is actually more of a booklet produced by the Wargames Illustrated team and is a sort of group effort. It was flagged up by Lee Abbott, who’s a very good painter and interested in that sort of thing and that was my prompt. The second book is by Javier Gomez (‘El Mercenario’) and I was persuaded to buy it by that master of the brush Sir Sidney Roundwood who wrote a short, illustrated review. And now it’s my turn . . . .

The actual titles of the books are:

Wargames Illustrated Paints (still available from the mag stands or from the W.I, webstore); £5.95 at about 67 useful pages (i.e. without the end papers etc.) which works out at about 9 pence per page. I’ll refer to this one as ‘WI’.

Painting Wargame Figures; Javier Gomez; Pen & Sword Military (30 Mar. 2015); ISBN 1848848226; £16.99 at about 218 useful pages which works out at about 8 pence per page. I’ll refer to this one as ‘Gomez’ – well who wouldn’t?

Why the note about the cost per page? Well, they’re two massively different approaches and styles and it’s about the only way to measure relative cost given the limitations of a blog. As it is, they’re both about the same relative value, irrespective of content.

Who would bother to read a book on figures painting? You don’t have to be a master figure painter to be interested in this sort of book, just as you don’t have to be a Premiership player to watch a football match. I guess audience is made up of three groups:

  • those new to painting,
  • those who want to improve,
  • those who are simply interested in reading about others’ methods.

Now, there must be as many painting styles as there are figure painters and, usefully, these are examples of very similar methods, although the Gomez book goes on to mention media other than acryics. Nevertheless, both books could be described as giving instructions on how to paint figures (essentially 28mm) in the three layer/shade method and neither book is going to set you on the path to a Golden Demon Award by next Easter. However, both books are useful manuals for most skill levels. Consequently, the books are necessarily formulaic in their approach. They’re not definitive guides and don’t claim to be although the cover of the WI does boast “Your complete guide to painting wargames miniatures”: I should cocoa.

Hot tip: buy some shares in a certain Spanish paint company as sales may well rocket about now . . . . .

Although broadly similar, each book has its strengths. The WI book has useful sections on the use of decals and figure conversion techniques and Gomez covers individual colours in detail, along with a large section on horse colours and types, although some of this is a luxury in that the section on individual colurs is repetitive: the technique remains the same. Both books contain good sections on basing, but the WI includes mention of painting wood in a variety of conditions, which complements this.

So which one? As with most things in life, the final choice depends on personal taste. The content of both is good, but I prefer the WI booklet because, although it’s not as substantial or glossy as the Gomez book, I find the content more interesting overall. However, as I said, being filthy rich, I’ve got both so it doesn’t matter.

I think it’s fair to say that I, and a lot of gamers I know, use many more methods and techniques than those mentioned in these books, but I’m a dabbler and I’m easily bored so I play around with paint and figures probably more than most. If you scan back through the blog entries here, you'll see several techniques mentioned or described. There isn’t one, single method and some are more suited to some styles of sculpting than  to others.

On a final note, anyone who recognises the words in the title or can sing the actual song is either a member (or former member) of Her Majesty's Royal Navy or should be thoroughly ashamed of himself (or herself). You surely wouldn't sing it to you mother . . . .


Been a very mixed November so far (and there isn’t much further to go). Other than to say that it’s a lovely city, I’m not going to mention Paris or the other, bigger atrocities in the Middle East and stick mostly to our little fantasy world of wargaming. Fair to say though, I’ve just been going through the motions lately.

Early in the month, Young Henry had a burn about knights, so one quite nice Sunday we set off with the intention of visiting the Royal Armouries in Leeds and young feller-me-lad here (that’s me) would nip into the Fiasco show for a quick shufty. My daughter has been steeped in wargaming and its associated nasty habits all her life, so she had her own plan to cover this. 

Got to say that l although the visit to the Armouries was very good as usual and Henry was captivated, the Fiasco visit was just that – a fiasco. Although it was held in the same complex as the Armouries, I hadn’t spotted anything about the show on the way in and, when the time came to get to the show, I couldn’t find any signage at all. Now, to be fair, it was about an hour and a half before close of play, but there didn’t appear to have been any signage. I finally found the show by asking two obvious punters (you know what to look for!) who said they’d had the same problem. So far not good.

I simply walked into the show without paying – couldn’t see anyone to approach and nobody stopped me because nobody was there. Inside it was pretty demoralising. I’m not sure how many visitors there were, but, at a rough guess, I’d say they were outnumbered by the traders by about five or six to one. I rarely single anyone out for special attention because it’s pot luck where and when I wash up, but I must say that, although I didn’t announce my presence with a boson’s call, I was studiously ignored at the Warlord Games stand and so, as I couldn’t find what I wanted because the figure packs seemed to have been slung on the displays in any old fashion, I walked – out of the show as it happens.

Now, it takes a whole lot less effort and energy to whinge about a show than it does to stage one, but this was a bit of a killer. The place may have been heaving with people earlier on, but, judging by the long faces around, I doubt it. If Henry had been a bit older and I’d intended to use the show as an introduction to the hobby, I’d have been more than a little peeved. Still, I did buy three pots of paint. Think I’ll stick to Vapnartak and Partizan and maybe the St Helens show.

Now, following a prompt from Guy Bowers, I bought a copy of his ‘Black Ops’ rules. I’m not a big fan of ultra modern games, mainly because I’m of a sensitive nature and prefer something which I haven’t just seen live on BBC News 24. As I said to Fran recently, I prefer games where I can pretend there isn’t any collateral damage with consequent little lead widows and orphans. (Sissy!) There’re a couple of good reviews of the rules knocking about already, so we’ll skip that, but my intention is to push them back fifty years or so and adapt them for Vietnam. This isn’t going to be a major exercise by any means and should provide some interesting, small scale games. First looks indicate that it shouldn’t be difficult at all to expand the games up to platoon size actions and maybe even larger, although that’s where other rules step in. 

For me, the best part of November so far has been a marked improvement in the state of my pandies, which means I’m back wielding a paint brush, although it’s mostly been the 2” variety of late. Yes, we’ve finally made a start on the changes we’ve wanted to make to the house for a while now. Nothing dramatic, but it means a complete redecoration with bits of fitting and plastering in case I get bored. On the plus side of things, I’ll get my own wargaming space at the end of it all (in about a year, I think!), but it’s a slow job for one reason or another. A major factor in slowing things up is the need to move things around from one room to another to free up space to do the work. It’s a bit like one of those frames you had as a child that contained little tiles which you had to move round in sequence to make a picture or a pattern or words/numbers; a sort of two dimensional Rubik’s Cube. Part of this involves moving stuff into and out of the loft, which is a sort of black hole (it features in the new Star Wars film) and there have been occasional mishaps – mostly to things belonging to me. 

So, remember the Regiment de Maine from almost exactly two years ago? The overall project had to go on hold for various reasons, but the two battalions rested in stately majesty on a shelf in the loft waiting for the resurrection of the WSS project. Well, they rested in stately majesty until some oaf (O.K., it was me) accidentally repositioned them onto the bedroom floor via the aluminium loft ladder (seemed like every rung). Gravity is certainly a constant round here. I was only mildly apoplectic as the damage didn’t reach the terminal stage for the unit. A couple of figures broken beyond repair, lots of things bent, plenty of paint chipped off, a dismounted colonel and no flags. Not too bad really, I suppose. Took about a week to do the repairs and rebasing and here they are before I put them away PROPERLY:


A while ago, on Tony Howard’s blog, I described a friend (subsequently christened Jason Bourne - but don't tell him!) who would have been a boon to Shackleton or MI5 and then there’s Bill who, at 64 (ish), is still heavily involved in cave and mountain rescue and, last year, went up Everest (though he couldn’t afford to go right to the summit). So I thought I’d mention Joan. She’s a little older than me and she spent much of her working life in the theatre (the bits other than acting – I dunno), during which time she went out with Ian McShane and Robert Lindsay and has friends with accommodation in various desirable little places etc., etc. She’s actually a former colleague of my wife’s and I used to think she was a bit of a name dropper until a few years ago when I learnt to be less doubtful. About seven years ago, during particularly bad weather, she has hit by a bus as only Joan can be and suffered a variety of injuries, some quite serious. She is now disabled, but refuses to roll over even though she’s been forced to give up work. O.K., that’s really just setting the scene for what I think is remarkable. 

Given her arty and theatrical background, she used to go to the Edinburgh Festival when she could and this year she had the burn to go again. She was sorted with accommodation through friends, but travel was likely to be a problem. Although quite comfortably off, thank you, she’s never been one to waste money and as far as Joan’s concerned, train fares are a rip off, so what to do? Just to complicate things, she’s permanently on crutches (refuses to use a wheelchair as they’re for old people and the disabled, for God’s sake!) and, in any case, the alternatives were accompanied by varying levels of discomfort. So, to cut it short, she made the Manchester to Edinburgh run, and return, on the back of a friend’s motorbike with another friend and her crutches in the sidecar and ‘did’ the festival! 

My immediate reaction when I was told this was that she’s barmy, but, on reflection, I think she’s a trooper. I hope there’s an inexhaustible supply of people like her because we need’em. Over the years she’s become a good friend and I think I’m all the richer for it.

That bloody wind’s still blowing!

After a brief respite the hand problem returned - serves me right for getting cocky. Nevertheless, despite the necessity of bits of plastering and subsequent painting etc., the appendiges do seem to be making some improvement. A visit to yet another specialist (very attractive young Polish woman this time) has resulted in a new treatment regime and a promise that ”We will become very good friends” – cor! Unfortunately, she was referring to the management of the ‘condition’ rather than anything else. So, painting is still a struggle (and typing’s a pig), but, during the interregnum, at least I got a battalion finished and polished off an ECW Royalist field officer who may yet find his way into a cavalry unit.

Shame really, as, aside from the assembly line stuff, I’ve got some more stimulating things ready to roll. I have begun to suspect that somebody sits there plotting my downfall. There’s going to be a funny side to all this, but I’m struggling to see it.

Yet still at night I am haunted by the fright
And distant memory
Of the day I lost the light
Moving through the night
Running from the grand ennui”

Anyone identify this song?

So, thought I’d do some more book recommendations as the last lot kept the well from drying up. I do actually spend my time doing more than reading, but I’m sure you’re not interested in a chronicle of my real world activity.

Culloden – John Prebble (Pimlico; New Ed edition (2 May 2002); ISBN-10: 0712668209)

It’s the 300th anniversary of The ’15 and the 270th of The ’45, so I thought it was an appropriate time to re-read this one, particularly as Edwin King (Diplomatist Books) laid temptation in my path.

I assumed everyone knew about The ’45, but it came up in conversation at a sort of party, get together thing a few weeks ago (“So, what have you been reading lately?). It turned out that, while everybody knew about Bonnie Prince Charlie and even about Flora McThingy’s ferry service, slightly fewer had hear of The ’45. So much for the SNP’s play on words last year - Ms Sturgeon would have been spitting blood by this time.

Prebble’s book reads almost like a novel, but with few heroes and plenty of utter swines on all sides. Nobody comes up smelling of roses; it’s a sort of race to the bottom of human behaviour and I’m not entirely sure who wins. The Highlanders and who actually supported the Jacobite cause (often unwillingly) and many innocent civilians are clearly the victims of the failed rebellion and suffer at the hands of the English soldiers, Scottish auxiliaries, Highlanders from other clans and even their own lairds. 

Altogether, it’s an important book and pretty much a standard on Culloden and its background. It contains good information on Life as a regular soldier and the social structure of the clans. It’s not absolutely unbiased, but it’s as near as I’ve seen and it’s a difficult period of history to deal with in any case. It was a brutal time in which life was cheap and got cheaper the lower down the greasy pole you were.

Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man (75th Anniversary Edition) - Hugh Sebag-Montefiore (Penguin (30 April 2015); ISBN-10: 0241972264)

I’ve read this before, about five years ago, but, as this is the 75th anniversary edition and it was only about three quid from Tesco’s, I thought I’d see what it had to offer. Essentially, nothing much different from the original edition, so, if you’ve got that, stick with it. This special edition has had the footnotes removed (though they’re all available online) to make room for more personal accounts and appendices. However, it’s still a very well written account of the 1940 French campaign up to and including Dunkirk.

Battlefields in Miniature : Making Realistic and Effective Terrain for Wargames – Paul  Davies (Pen & Sword Military (28 May 2015); ISBN-10: 1781592748)

This isn’t really the sort of book you read through, but it’s an excellent book and well worth the price. It contains plenty of hints and tips, basic concepts and more skilled aspects of terrain construction. At this point I should probably say something like “Carlsberg don’t produce a book on terrain modelling, but if they did . . . .”


Marlboroughs Other Army. The British Army and the Campaigns of the First Peninsula War, 1702-12 (Century of the Soldier 1618-1721) – Nick Dorrell (Helion & Company (7 May 2015); ISBN-10: 1910294632)

This is the one you’ve been waiting for! Raced through it – easy to read and a wargamer’s dream of a book. The good thing (there’s only one?) is that at last the less popular Iberian campaign is easily accessible to gamers in a digestible form. It covers organisation, orders of battle, maps and uniforms as well of a very readable narrative of the campaign(s). It’s part of the new ‘Century of the Soldier’ series from Pen and Sword and it’s set the bar pretty high for any following publications in the series.


As you might expect, you’re not getting away without some fiction and this time it’s sci-fi and fantasy, old(er) and new.

The Death of Grass – John Christopher (Penguin Classics (2 April 2009); ISBN-10: 0141190175)

Thoughtful sci-fi written not long after the war, but years ahead of its time. A virus, which attacks all grass related plants (so most food crops and consequently livestock etc.)  has originated in China and is spreading across the globe. What can humans do and how can they cope?

By now, this is a somewhat dated book and it’s steeped in the post war period in both style and content, but it’s very well written and a real page turner. My copy has already been lost, ‘acquired’ by family vultures and since passed on to God knows where. Typical.


Foxglove Summer – Ben Aaranovitch (Gollancz (9 July 2015); ISBN-10: 0575132523)

Aaranovitch began a series of books a few years ago about a special department in the Metropolitan Police . The department deals with all supernatural events within the Met area (and later outside also) where rivers have associated minor gods and magic is a common basis for crime and sedition. Yes, he’s been reading one of those books again.

Foxglove Summer is the latest in the series, and can be read in its own right, but, do yourself a favour and begin with the first volume. Comedy hovers just beneath the surface of a high quality text and, if this is your cup of tea, you whip through it in no time.

The Song of the Dodo

Yes, nice to see you too. Where have I been? Nowhere really, but I've been reading and ruminating and the like. Been cautious about wha...