Thursday, March 05, 2015

The Great lead-pile reduction strategy 1 Colonial Period


My "playroom" is full.  It's more than full.  In order to get from one part of the room to another you now have to follow narrow paths on the floor between piles of precariously balanced stuff.  I need to get rid of a lot of stuff, I really do!  Coupled with this was the recognition, at the end of last year, that I had bought enough new figures to keep me occupied for seven years.  Many figures have to go!  Encouraged by the determination of others, such as Scott, I have decided to be ruthless about getting rid of figures I am never going to paint and since the beginning of the year I have got my lead pile down by 372 figures!.  So this is the first in an occasional series looking at the different periods I have figures for and what is going and what is staying.  Today it's one of my favourites: the Colonial period.

I have been collecting figures for this period for over fifteen years and my periods are:  Darkest Africa, Matabele Wars, Zulu Wars, Sudan, North West Frontier, Indian Mutiny and the Sikh Wars.  Time for rationalisation!

Darkest Africa

Some of my Ruga-ruga

These, with Gripping Beast Vikings, were the first metal 28mm figures I bought and I have most of the Foundry figures (except the pygmies - I hate the pygmies).  I have painted reasonable forces of Azande, Belgians, British and Arabs.  I also have unpainted Masai, Somalians and North Star Matabele.  With the new Congo rules from Studio Tomahawk on the horizon I am not going to get rid of these except I think I will lose the Matabele as, like Zulus, they would take ages to paint.  Also, I prefer my African Games to be set in slightly earlier times, I think.

Going: Matabele

Colonial India

I've only painted four Indian Mutiny British but have the rest of the unit well on the way

I had three periods I was collecting forces for:  Sikh Wars, Indian Mutiny and North West frontier.  Although I have only painted a few Indian Mutiny figures I still think that these would be good for some large scale skirmish games so these will stay.  Likewise, the new North West Frontier figures from Artizan.  They have just released another batch of these but I need to finish the ones I have started before I get any more.  So, despite some lovely figures from Studio Miniatures and memories of Flashman and the Mountain of Light these didn't make the cut and I have already sold them

Gone: Sikh Wars

Zulu and Sudan Wars

Some of my Zulu Wars British

I probably shouldn't be doing both and if I was forced to choose it would be Zulu Wars which would go but the Empress Miniatures figures are so nice I can't face getting rid of them.  The Perry Sudan figures will definitely stay as I have actually painted enough that I have even had some games with them.

North Africa

Ever since the days of the Airfix Sahara Fort (which I never owned but always wanted) I have had a hankering to do something with the French Foreign legion.  Artizan's range has been a disappointment as they covered the Legion in detail but then didn't bother with more than a handful of packs of opponents, although the new figures form Unfeasibly Miniatures sold by Black Hat in the UK look wonderful.  I need to work out some skirmish project in the future for these, perhaps using IHMN.

So, a nice clear rationalisation here but other periods will cause much more agony!

Monday, March 02, 2015

Pulp Villainess - Rania Al-Ghais and belly-dancing

Although I am doing some work on my Carolingians I got distracted by this splendid belly-dancer by Brother Vinni.  She brings my completed figures for February to a massive five! 

She may do duty in my nineteenth century In Her Majesty's Name world as Zairah Al-Ghais, in her private entertainment capacity to Sir Lawrence Swann.  Really, however, she will be part of my new 1920's Egypt pulp world as Sir Laurence Swann's illegitimate daughter Rania: Dancer, courtesan, assassin, mystic and spy.  More about her back story here.

While painting her I listened, naturally, to belly dancing music, of which I have rather a lot in my iTunes collection.  This is partly because I listen to it when in Turkey (as I am likely to be again in April) and partly because my German friend, B, used to do belly dancing classes (probably still does as she is working in Istanbul at present (conveniently)).  My favourite disc is this one by Ensemble Hüseyin Türkmenler, with bellydancer Nasrah Nefer on the cover.

Gyrating in the Grand Hyatt

I have always enjoyed the belly dancing shows in the Awtar lebanese restaurant, in the Grand Hyatt hotel, Dubai, which is where I grabbed this shot of undulating loveliness.  I have also seen good displays in Istanbul, particularly at the Ciragan Palace hotel.  That said,  less exotically, they used to have a regular belly dancer at the Greek restaurant down the road in Esher!

Dance of the Almeh (1863) by Gérôme

This sort of dancing had been reported upon in the west by nineteenth century travellers and was illustrated in orientalist paintings by artists like Jean-Léon Gérôme (who painted the famous gladiator painting Pollice Verso), Nils Forsberg and  Vincenzo Marinelli.

Belly-dancer by Forsberg

Most of these were exotic fantasies set in the harem and so they depicted dancers wearing rather less than their actual dancing contemporaries would have been seen in.  Forsberg's painting more accurately depicts the dress and the fact that the dances were performed to all female audiences, until the nineteen twenties.

Dance of the Bee in the Harem (detail) (1862) by Marinelli

Vincenzo Marinelli's harem fantasy has his dancers undressed more in the fashion of the Brother Vinni figure.  I am sure, however, that if you had your own harem, as in the Topkapi in Constaninople, you would have had your dancers undress for you so as to appreciate their terpsichorean talents all the more.

Little Egypt - the sensation of the World's Fair in 1893

Actual belly dancing was first seen outside the Middle East and North Africa at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and its shocking gyrations spawned many imitators (and some arrests!).  The performance by 'Little Egypt' (Fahreda Mazar Spyropoulos -a Syrian married to a Chicago-based Greek restaurant owner) at the show The Algerian Dancers of Morocco was rumoured to be so sensational it actually contributed to the financial success of the Fair, due to the crowds she drew.  It is said that Mark Twain, who had a keen interest in technology, made a film of her there and that later he suffered a near-fatal heart attack watching her  perform (he had a keen interest in belly-dancing too).  She was later arrested for performing her dance naked at the stag party of the grandson of PT Barnum. In a strange cultural twist Hollywood started to put belly-dancing in films and Egyptian dancers copied what they saw in Hollywood's version of the dance and incorporated them into their own routines in Egypt.

A very,very fictionalised account of the World's Fair shows was presented in the 1951 film, Little Egypt, starring Rhonda Fleming.  Other than the fact that it is about a notorious belly-dancer (or Hootchy-Kootchy dancer as the Americans called them) at the 1893 World's Fair it bears no resemblance to actual events whatsoever.

Badia Massabni

What we know as belly-dancing today (a translation of the French, danse de ventre - the name given it by Napoleon's troops in Egypt) is a mixture of different folk dances from Turkey, Algeria, Egypt and Syria, melded with western forms. It's development went the opposite route of that other scandalous dance of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Can-can. The Can-can began as a solo dance and evolved into a group dance while belly-dancing began as a group dance and gradually became a solo dance in the nineteen twenties. In the Middle East itself, its heyday began in the nineteen twenties, with the lifting of religious restrictions in Turkey in 1923 and the work of pioneers like Badia Massabni, a Lebanese, who introduced it to the clubs of Cairo in the late nineteen twenties.  It was Massabni who introduced formal choreography and incorporated western ballet and Latin American dance elements.  She also introduced, appropriately for this figure, the concept of the dancer lifting her arms above her head, something not seen in the original folk dances. It's flowering in Cairo stopped in the 1950s when restrictions were introduced to prevent too-revealing costumes and ban floor work (which remained popular in Turkey), which was considered overly lascivious.

Samia Gamal in 1952

From just before this period we have an actual Egyptian belly-dancer, Samia Gamal (born Zeinab Ali Khalil Ibrahim Mahfouz) who was a protege of Massabni and was considered the Egyptian Ginger Rogers.  She visited the US in 1950 and became well known as a result, even marrying an American (briefly).

Ranis Bossonis

Dancers like this were never acceptable in Egyptian or Turkish society, even at the time.  Many of the Turkish dancers were actually Roma people. The dancers in Egypt were likely to be Lebanese or Syrian.  Today, the dancers you see in places like Dubai may come from Argentina or India.  Noted modern dancer, Rania Bossonis, is Greek.  I have borrowed her first name for my character but I also knew a fiery Egyptian lady called Rania, who I met at a reception in the British Ambassador's residence in Cairo a few years ago.  We later met up in more relaxed circumstances in Geneva where she did not have to coneern herself so much with Egyptian norms of behaviour for a lady (which she very much was, however).

Dancer with zils

The Turkish and Egyptian styles of belly dance have some stylistic differences (the use of the finger cymbals, zils (also used in Ottoman military bands), is a Turkish practice, for example) but these days it tends to be a mish-mash of various styles and influences.   Rania Al-Ghais, having been schooled in the Egyptian style. would not, therefore sport zils.

I think I have another two Brother Vinni dancers to work on so may dig another out soon!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

My life in travel..

An appropriate location for Oscars night

As regular readers (you poor things) will know I have spent much of the last thirty years flying around the world on business.  I've been to sixty-three countries in that time.  Indeed, the normal greeting I get from people I haven't seen for a time (as happened this week) is "where have you just come back from?" This is because they assume I must have just come back from somewhere.  While initially very exciting (my first business trips were to Rome where I discovered exciting Italian women and the fact that foreign women thought people from Britain were attractively exotic), the experience of travel has palled, especially since September 11th.  A few years ago I had a job which involved me being out the country for about 180 days in a year.  I have been consciously trying to cut down my time away from the UK for some years and last year I managed it: No days out of the country (unless you count Scotland) for the first time in nearly thirty years.

Who wouldn't want to travel to the Pyramids with the lovely Liz Bonnin?

Now this week I was watching a documentary about Egypt's lost cities, fronted, as it were, by the lovely Liz Bonnin (and some man but I don't register men).  While searching for a picture of Liz for one of my appreciated ladies pictures I came across an interview she did for the Independent called My life in travel, which seems to be from a series they have run.  Excellent, I thought, another post I can do without having to have painted any more soldiers  (actually I have done an hour today on some Carolingians and a Pulp company I am working on) and apposite as I am determined to stop flying around the world this year and ,therefore, some reflection would be appropriate.   However, having decided that I really can't take any more flying I have just learned this week that it looks like I will be unable to avoid a trip in April.  Grr!  Anyway memories are much better than the ghastly reality of travel so here I answer the same questions as in the interview with Miss Bonnin.

First holiday memory?

I was on holiday with my parents in Dinard in Brittany in the summer of 1962.  I remember the Tour de France coming to the town and I also remember a helicopter landing on the beach nearby (probably linked).  I can still remember it quite clearly.  It was also the first time I was allowed wine with dinner.  My parents would probably have been locked up these days, for letting me drink wine at the age of two and a half.  I haven't stopped since.

Best holiday? 

The Legatus's sister explores the massive metropolis that is Margaret River, Western Australia

In 1987 I went with my sister to visit our aunt in Perth, Western Australia, to watch the America's Cup (which my aunt was involved in).  We stayed in the city for a time and then drove down to the wine regions of the Margaret River ;visiting Sandalford Winery and Leeuwin Estate, amongst others.  We also made a visit to the Cape Mentelle vineyard where they were selling the very first vintage of a wine from their sister winery in New Zealand: A stunning new Sauvignon Blanc called Cloudy Bay.  We stayed in a nineteenth century Australian National Trust house and enjoyed the civilised practice of being able to take wine you had bought in the vineyards into the local restaurants to have with dinner. My sister, aunt and I found the triple bottle boxes you could buy at the vineyards were just the job for dinner!  We came back via a few days in Hong Kong and went to Macau on the hydrofoil  (where the Shanghai scenes for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) were filmed.)  Part of our excursion included a trip across the bridge from Macau to mainland China, at a time when it was very difficult to get into the PRC, but because of my sister's job at a secret organisation we couldn't go, sadly.  Good food, stunning wine, lovely weather and my sister is always amusing company, although she wasn't amused when I got off with a girl at a barbecue in City Beach.

 Favourite place in the British Isles? 

The entrance to Newtown Harbour in West Wight (the posh end)

The Isle of Wight of course!  Like Britain in the nineteen fifties but with surprisingly different landscapes across the Island and you are never far from the sea.  Good local beer, several vineyards, Roman villas, excellent crustacea, a tank museum, dinosaur fossils, boats and yachty totty. Splendid!  I was amused to see a Lion Rampant scenario set on the Isle of Wight in the new Miniature Wargames magazine!  This I will have to do!  Honourable mentions to Bath, Oxford, Somerset and Edinburgh.

 What have you learnt from your travels?

Around the World with Baggit - Toronto, I think

Don't take too much stuff!  I can do up to two weeks with hand luggage now.  Hand luggage in the form of Baggit, as my shoulder bag is known (I'm sorry, hand luggage with wheels is for girls).  Waiting at airport baggage carousels, hoping your luggage will appear, adds even more stress to travel than normal so with hand luggage only you can whiz right through.  Except in Los Angeles, when they didn't believe that I could do a week long trip on hand luggage and I had to take everything out to prove it.  

 Ideal travelling companion?

Another fleapit hotel

Well there are several ladies I have enjoyed travelling with, such as my particular friends S, C (C is S's ex girlfriend - yes it is all very complicated) and because they all enjoy their wine and food, like art galleries, speak lots of languages and are a delight to share a bottle of Champagne with in the bath (I do not like hotel rooms with showers as your glass immediately fills with water).  My daughter is good company too, although I don't, of course, share baths with her (well not since she was about one).

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia

I get bored on a beach after about two hours and anything that induces adrenaline is obviously dangerous and therefore to be avoided.  I do make the odd exception for mountain biking.  I have cycled from Banff to Lake Louise in the Rockies, come down Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler on ski trails, gone off road in the French Alps and also cycled in Switzerland, Vancouver, Copenhagen, the Black Forest and in Bogota (fortunately they close a lot of the main roads to traffic on Sundays).  What I most enjoy, however, is to visit the local art gallery or any military themed museums or historic ships I can find.  Also, I do actually like being in hotels and I am quite happy staying in them all day rather than forcing myself out to wander around somewhere ghastly (like Asia).

 Greatest travel luxury? 

Laguna Beach, California

A necessity rather than a luxury.  I can't go anywhere without my iPod (and it's pre-digital forbears) and, hopefully, a playlist of appropriate tunes.  I've listened to The Mummy soundtrack while wandering around the Pyramids at  Giza, Miami Vice in South Beach, Resphigi's The Pines of Rome while walking along the Via Appia Antica, The Third Man in Vienna, Boy on a Dolphin in Athens, From Russia with Love in Istanbul etc.  Oh, and my Ray Bans.  Can't go anywhere without my Ray Bans!  Even if it does mean that the sunniest places then suffer from unprecedented rainfall for as long as I am there.

Holiday reading?

Sometimes a novel linked to my destination (Murder on the Orient Express when I last stayed in the Pera Palace in Istanbul) but more often a historical, military novel of some sort.  The Kindle has revolutionised my reading when away from home, as I don't have to start a new book for every trip, leaving me with dozens of half read ones. 

Where has seduced you?

The Legatus in the Roman Forum in 1986.  Picture taken by Princess I

Probably Rome, in every way imaginable.  It is a very seductive lifestyle (well it was the way I lived it in the eighties and early nineties when I spent months on end there) with splendid hotels, wonderful food and wine, epic Roman ruins, renaissance splendour, and many, many lovely (and friendly) girls.  The traffic is a nightmare, though.  I drove a car once in Rome.  never, ever again!

Better to travel or to arrive?

About to leave on my worst flight ever.  70mph winds in a floatplane over Vancouver Island

My thoughts on flying are well known.  I do not enjoy driving either but I do enjoy travelling by rail.  But, I am never happier than when I unlock the door of my hotel room, can unpack and have a local beer while I plan the rest of my stay.  I try to arrive at a hotel at about five pm.  Just time to get washed and changed and into the bar for a Vodka Martini by six thirty.

 Worst hotel? 

The Hotel Centrum in Łódź in Poland.  Over-bright fluorescent light in the grim hotel reception area, whose idea of a bar was two stools in front of a very small counter where a grumpy looking girl was watching Poland's version of Strictly Come Dancing and completely ignoring any potential customers.  The room itself had had the door kicked in so many times that there were five old bolt mountings on the door with broken safety chains hanging from them. The light in the tiny room was so dingy you couldn't read by it.  Outside, prostitutes got into fights over territory.  One night was more than enough.  Happily it has since been demolished!

Best hotel? 

Art Deco splendour at the Imperial?

Colonial elegance in Hanoi?

Teutonic efficiency in Berlin?

For service, public areas and general ambience the Imperial in Delhi is very hard to beat.  The Metropole in Hanoi is almost perfect and has a number of stunningly good restaurants.  Closer to home, I am always very happy in the Adlon Hotel in Berlin, which has a truly sensational  restaurant, the Lorenz Adlon, which has two Michelin stars.  I had one of the best meals of my life there a few years ago, with my German friend B, even if they did have a bottle of mineral water on the list at £26.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

The Seven Sisters from Seaford Head

Probably the walk from Seaford (where both my aunt and uncle and sister lived) to Eastbourne over Seaford Head and the Seven Sisters, as it offers one of the most iconic views in England.  Much seen on films and TV, the trailer for the forthcoming film Mr Holmes (2015), about an older Sherlock Holmes and starring Sir Ian McKellen, has the characters walking up the hill in the foreground of the picture above.  The beach at the top left was where Kevin Costner landed when returning from the Crusades in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991).  On the beaches below the cliffs, photographer Bill Brandt shot most of his famous abstract nudes after World War 2.   Just before the first Gulf War I watched pairs of A10 Thunderbolts doing training passes up the Cuckmere Valley (just visible at the top left) at about seventy-five feet.  It is the only undeveloped river mouth in the south of England and, therefore, much used for geography field trips.  There is a pub called the Golden Galleon, about a mile inland with a wonderful view of the Cuckmere valley which is, however, not what it was.  It used to have a micro brewery there and made a wonderful beer called Saxon Beserker (8.5%!). I also ran over the Seven Sisters doing the Seven Sisters Marathon many years ago.  The biggest off-road marathon in Britain, it was, for many years, the only mixed marathon in the world where the course record was held by a woman (Sarah Rowell, a friend of my sister).  Hills, stiles, mud and, when I ran it, sixty mile an hour winds that caused them to abandon the race just after I finished it.  At one point, going up the first hill of the Seven Sisters I had to lie down and hold on to a gorse bush to stop myself being blown over.  

Best meal abroad?  

Engineered lobster in Washington DC

I do go for over the top five star hotel restaurant food.  I am not one of these people who enjoys eating street food in Asia or anywhere else.  Not just because you will likely end up with dysentery but because I hate eating on the go.  I don't want to stand up and eat.  I want to sit down at  a proper table and take my time.  I do not do fast food of any type.  As I mentioned, the Lorenz Adlon was sensational but I have also had transcendent meals in the Willard Inter-Continental in Washington DC, The Blu restaurant in the Shangri-La in Singapore,  the Hotel Angleterre in Copenhagen and the Five Sails in the Pan Pacific in Vancouver. Although, to be honest, I cannot always separate the enjoyment of the meal from whoever is my companion at the time!

 Dream trip? 

8.15 am in January.  It's cold!

PS Sudan

I have been to Egypt several times but I would really love to go up the Nile on the PS Sudan, one of Thomas Cook's original Nile steamers from the 1920s, which they used for the David Suchet version of Death on the Nile.  Staying at The Winter Palace and Cataract hotels, of course.  Egypt needs to calm down a bit first, however.  Other than that, I would love to go to New Zealand to look at Middle Earth properly.  A bit too far, though, for me now, I think.

Favourite city? 

Tricky one this.  Depends on my mood.  Washington DC, Vancouver, Toronto, Rome, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Vienna?  I'd even put Edinburgh on the list, now.  If I was forced to choose one it would have to be Vancouver, admittedly perhaps, for certain reasons other than just the city itself.

 Where next? 

The Orient Bar at the Pera Palace Hotel

It looks like Istanbul in April.  Only four hours flight, I suppose, and I do know my way around the place, which helps.  I'll probably stay at the Pera Palace again, which is where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Reducing the lead pile and out to lunch!

Well, my attempt to decrease the lead pile is going quite well, as I have now disposed of around 120 figures on eBay.  It's been goodbye to Copplestone Polar figures and Foundry Bronze Age (more going up tonight) some spare Ancient Greeks and a few duplicates.  Metal Caesarian Roman will be next.  It's actually de-stressing me, even if I haven't made any serious inroads into the lead pile yet.

I've sorted out some more Carolingians to get started on for Lion Rampart and found the rest of my IHMN Scotland Yard company to get to work on, combined with watching the final few episodes of series 2 of Ripper Street.  However, I may be getting distracted by a female dancing figure which I found in a box on the floor, having completely forgotten about her.  

I had an excellent lunch out on Friday after picking up some paint in Games Workshop on Oxford Street which is on my Food and Wine blog, of course.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Now then, now then, what's going on 'ere?

I have at last finished my policemen for my In Her Majesty's Name Scotland Yard Company.  I had been putting them off due to the necessity of having to paint the striped armbands that policemen had to wear on their left arms while on duty.  But by holding my breath and trusting in the Force they came out looking alright (from a distance!).  I need to locate the rest of the company now, as I have already painted Holmes and Watson.

Friday, February 13, 2015

New Warhammer shop in London

On  the way out to a drunken lunch with my ex-personal assistant today I nipped into the Games Workshop store in Oxford Street to pick up some paints.  French chap in there told me that, having moved down from the first floor in the Plaza Shopping centre to the ground floor, they would be moving, in April, to a new shop in Tottenham Court Road.  This will be their number one shop in the UK and will be "impressive".  It will be branded as a Warhammer shop.

I moaned about the rubbish support for The Hobbit and he said that the filmmakers caused problems for GW by changing the look of the troops at the last minute.  So their Thranduil was mounted on a horse, as the original artwork suggested, but then they had him on a stag for the film which was a last minute change which took them by surprise.  I asked if there would be any plastic forces for the Battle of Five Armies and he replied "possibly" but he was French and, therefore, unreliable by definition.

More Carolingians...

I found some more Carolingian figures in the lead pile.  See my Dark Ages blog.  Something to work on this weekend!  Oh, and I have finished four new IHMN figures!  Shock! Pictures soon.   Off to a long lunch with an ex-personal assistant today.  Heh, heh!